High Expectations. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, Summer 2018 Edition

I recently experienced something rare: I attended a wedding and I didn’t officiate. Over the last few years, my wedding excursions included rehearsal dinners, writing sermons and pre-martial counseling sessions. This time, however, my only expectation involved tearing up the dance floor. As I sat there in the pews, waiting for the ceremony to start, I realized that

every wedding comes with different types of expectations. Sometimes we are intimately involved with the planning and decision-making. Other times, we’re a member of the bridal party, watching our good friend say “I do.” Occasionally we’re asked to just join in the celebration. Whether we realize it or not, weddings

are filled with expectations. There are the expectations we bring to the big day, like knowing the ceremony will start late and that the lines for bacon-wrapped appetizers will be incredibly long. But weddings also expect us to act, pray and celebrate in specific ways too. A maid-of-honor is expected to give a toast, and the flower boys and girls are expected to throw their flowers in the right spots. A wedding includes more than just the expectations of the wedding couple and their families. Weddings have expectations for all of us.

In a similar way, churches have expectations too. But to notice them, we need to remember that a church is more than a building. A church is the assembly: the people gathered in Christ’s name. When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Romans, he wrote to people. These small groups of disciples met in private homes since no official church buildings existed. The church was (and is!) the people who are brought together by the Spirit to follow Jesus. This following requires faith. It requires grace. And, it also requires changing out expectations because we’re more than a group of people who hang out together. When we come together, Jesus promises to show up with us. This promise isn’t pretend or abstract. Jesus’ promise to each of us, and to the

church, is very real. As people bounded to each other by our baptism and our faith, we are expected to be more than just mere acquaintances. Jesus expects us to be His church, together.

This expectation manifests in different ways. You’re expected to meet with your fellow disciples of Jesus on Sunday morning if you are well and able. If Sunday morning doesn’t work for you, then the entire community must do the work to create a new gathering at a different time and place. You’re also expected to keep the community in your prayers, especially the people we name on out loud on

Sunday morning. You might not know what they need prayers for but don’t worry: God knows. You’re expected, as a member of Christ’s church, to financially support the community in a very intentional way. And finally, you’re expected to make a difference in our neighborhood and in our world through our collective ministry or in another meaningful way. These expectations can be challenging but they exist so that our faith can be more than something that lingers in the back of our minds. Faith’s expectations for us are how others will see what Jesus has done for us. In other words, Jesus’ expectations are how we love – and this is the kind of love that will transform us into something brand new.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

Children’s Sermon: Gifts – What we get from God to give to God’s people and world

Bring stuff you got from the ELCA Youth Gathering. Bring the Spiritual gifts scorecard and questions.

Hi everyone!

So two weeks ago, I went to this really cool event down in Houston, TX called the ELCA Youth Gathering. It’s this amazing thing that happens every 3 years. High school students from all over our denomination, the group of churches that we are also a part of, get together for more than 3 days of service, activities, worship, and fun. I went with Coleen and Brendan – and 31,000 people from all 50 states, 8 countries, and other territories that make up the ELCA. Now 31,000 is a lot of people. It’s really hard to get to know that many people. But one way we try to is by giving little…gifts. And these gifts look like these. Show all the buttons, etc. We trade them, learn where each other is from, and celebrate that there are Lutherans all over the place. There are lots of youth and families and people who go to a church just like this one. And we all worship and celebrate a God who loves us each and every day. Attending the ELCA youth Gathering is a real gift – just like all these little things are gifts too.

So to continue that theme about gifts – the gifts we can give each other and the gifts God gives us – we’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about our spiritual gifts. Now spiritual gifts are special talents and abilities that God gives us to help us serve, care, and take care of the church and each other. Spiritual gifts are things we can do well that we use within the church to serve Jesus and help tell others about his story. So each week, your parents will get a sheet like this. And it has questions to answer. And based on your answers, you’ll get a number – your score. The score doesn’t help you win anything – it just tells you what gift you might be better at. If you want, you should try to answer them too. They’ll cover all kinds of topics – some that you are good at and some that you aren’t. You might answer some questions and get a low score – and that’s okay. God doesn’t give us every talent and ability. We only are given a select few because God knows that the gifts were given are gifts this church and this world needs. So we’ll spend time looking at our spiritual gifts, discovering them, talking about them, and hopefully sharing them with each other. Because this church is bigger than just one person. This church needs you.and me…and you,land you…and everyone so that we can love, and serve, and follow Jesus in everything that we say and do.

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 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/15/2018.

Gifted: You Are Part of God’s Promise

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

My sermon from the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 15, 2018) on Ephesians 1:3-14. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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Have you ever tried to get your mouth to stop talking? Like, say you’re at a job interview or on a first date with someone you actually like. You’re doing your best to make a good first impression – so you make eye contact, answer their questions, and make sure you act as if you’re happy to be there. But sometimes we forget to turn on that part of our brain that gives other people a chance to speak. We talk…and talk….and talk. Our inner monologue, that little voice inside our head, tells us to stop talking but we just can’t. The words spill out, like a flood. If we’re lucky, the person we’re talking to understands our enthusiasm and they give us another chance to make a new first impression. But usually the person we’re talking to walks away with a look on their face that destroys all hope for any future conversation. One of the first things we learn when talking to other people is that we need to pause and create a space where others can speak. We need to stop talking. Because it’s in the small periods of silence when we discover how to listen to each other. When we stop filling our corner of the world with our own words, we hear, for the first time, thoughts, ideas, and stories from others that we never noticed before. It’s in the pauses and in the silence where we create opportunities to learn about, and connect with, each other.

Which is why these eleven or so verses from the opening chapter of our second reading, the letter to the Ephesians, is so weird. Because if you look at our english translation of this text, we see plenty of commas, periods, and other punctuation marks that slow the words down. There is no flood because the verses have pauses and silences inserted into them. But the ancient greek text behind our english translation has….none of that. These verses are one long and unbroken sentence. So imagine, for a moment, reading this text differently. Start like we did with “Blessed be the God and Father…” but when you get to the end of verse 4, right where it says “blameless before him in love,” don’t stop to take a breath. Don’t pause. Instead, head straight into, “He destined us will…” and then keep going. When we get to “he lavished on us;” continue “with all wisdom and insight.” These verses do not pause. They don’t take a break. They keep going, faster and faster until, by verse 11, we’re stumbling over the words. Our inner monologue wants us to stop, it needs us to slow down, but when verse 13 shows up, we can no longer keep straight who is in him, who is you, who believed, and who has been marked and who hasn’t. Instead, at the end of verse 14, everyone collapses into a heap, exhausted, worn out, and confused. Together we take deep breaths, trying to get our bearings, and wondering what it was that we just read and heard. Any of the spaces and boundaries between us – like our beliefs, our gender, our age, and our social and economic class – has been temporarily replaced by a flood of words that started with a blessing and ended with God’s praise. We are, whether we realize it or not, united by a run-on sentence that fills the space between us and forms us into a new community through our eternal connection to Jesus Christ.

Which is, I think, the reason why the letter to the Ephesians starts this way. The author, at this point, isn’t interested in creating new periods of silence, new spaces, where we can connect and deepen our relationship with God. Because when we stop talking, when we create a period of silence that someone else fills up, that’s something we did. It’s an act of connection that we choose to create. But the author wants to begin this letter by first pointing out how God is connected to us in all of our moments, including those moments we didn’t choose, and those moments where we, at first, didn’t notice that God was with us. These kinds of moments are varied and sometimes, in hindsight, easy to name. When we look back and reflect on specific moments in our lives, we can see how Jesus was there when we were sad or afraid. It’s after the fact when we recognize how Jesus carried us through those parts of our lives when we couldn’t feel God’s love for us. When we look back at the brokenness that we lived through – or the brokenness that we’ve learned to live with – that’s usually the moment when we can see how Jesus made a difference in our lives. But Jesus doesn’t only show up when we’re having a hard time. And he isn’t only visible after terrible things have happened. No, Jesus is here – right now. And not only is Jesus here but your connection to God is something that didn’t started at your baptism or your confirmation or when you finally stopped running from God and said, in a prayer, that you believe. Your connection to God, your relationship with Jesus Christ, was something God promised to you before the world was made. The space that you are living in, the space that we occupy and fill with our words, thoughts, emotions, and experiences – all of that, is connected and filled up, by God. There are no moments of our lives where God isn’t present. There are no periods of time when grace upon grace isn’t being given to us. All of us, as we are, are beloved children of God. And this relationship doesn’t depend on what we look like or what exactly we believe. It doesn’t depend on our age, how much money we have, what grades we got in school, or even who we love. The spaces we create to keep us separated from each other are spaces that, in Christ, God fills up. Each of us, as we are, are essential and precious to God. We are more than our bank account, more than our last health screening, more than what other people say about us, and even more than our citizenship or our nationality. You are, grace upon grace, part of God’s family. You are a part of Jesus Christ. And you are always necessary. You are necessary for this church. You are necessary for what God is doing in the world. And you are connected to a worldwide communion of believers that is rooted in love. This love doesn’t stop even in those moments when we are embarrassing ourselves with the flood of words coming out of our own mouths. And this love hasn’t stopped when the only words we can speak are, “God, why me?” In our deep desire to connect to God, to notice God, to understand what it is God wants from us – we first have to recognize that God is with us in every moment of our lives – and that we have been, and always will be, loved.

Amen.

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Reflection: A Platter

Today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark 6:14-29 is rare because Jesus isn’t in it. He doesn’t heal. He doesn’t teach. Jesus says nothing. But Jesus is the center of the story because King Herod is disturbed by what Jesus’ disciples are saying. In last week’s text, we saw Jesus send his disciples away. They were told to preach, teach, and heal. They took nothing with them – no bread, no bag, and no money. Instead, all they had were the words and power Jesus gave them. The text says they went out and “proclaimed that all should repent” (Mark 6:12). King Herod heard what Jesus’ disciples were doing. And King Herod was scared.

The story of John the Baptist’s beheading is a little gruesome. Herod is impulsive, calculating, and trapped in a system where he isn’t as politically powerful as he wanted to be. He is the king of Galilee but he’s not on top. Rome is still in charge. But that doesn’t mean that Herod didn’t have opportunities to gain more power. So in an attempt to strengthen his political position, Herod married his brother’s wife. John the Baptist heard about this political move and he won’t have it. John tells Herod that his marriage is unjust. This makes Herod (and his wife) upset. So John the Baptist is sent to prison and, eventually, killed. The text implies that Herod is regularly manipulated by Herodias, his wife. But we shouldn’t act as if this gets Herod off the hook for his actions. Herod made the choice marry Herodias and he is the one who made the decision to kill John the Baptist. Herod is an active participant in John’s beheading (he even says “John, whom I beheaded…”). Herod, like the others around him, will do everything he can to fulfill his impulsive behavior, including his desire for more power. He is participating in a system that is violent, aggressive, and harmful. And it’s this system that John, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples speak out against.

One of the reasons why they speak out against this system because of what this hunger for power does to the people. We see the outcome not only in what happened to John the Baptist. We also see the evil this can cause in the words Herodias’ daughter uses. After King Herod is seduced by Herodias’ daughter, he makes an impulsive (and destructive) promise. The daughter takes this promise to her mother. Her mom wants the head of John the Baptist so that’s what her daughter asked for. But instead of only asking for the head, the daughter asked for it to be served on a platter. This system of power devours the people who stand up to it and corrupts the people who are living within it. The banquet of the rich and powerful requires the taking of a life. But next week we’ll discover what Jesus’ banquet of love, grace, and Godly power does instead.

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 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/15/2018.

Reflection: The Third Heaven

I have no idea what Paul is talking about when he mentions the Third Heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-10). Our modern conceptions of heaven do not usually imagine a hierarchy in heaven. But this leveling is a new idea. There are texts in the Bible that imagines heaven as a layered cake where each layer brings us closer to God. Paul, in today’s letter to the Corinthians, is playing a game. He’s boasting about himself. He does this first by name dropping that he knows someone who ascended to the third heaven. Paul doesn’t give us any details but that’s because the third heaven isn’t the point. Paul is boasting because his opponents are boasting as well.

We don’t know much about Paul’s opponents. Pau was one of several different missionaries traveling throughout the Roman Empire. These missionaries all had different thoughts (and experiences) about what this Jesus thing was all about. As these missionaries wandered around the Roman Empire, they would form new faith communities. When a different missionary entered these faith communities later on, big disagreements would start. We don’t know what Paul’s opponents were like since we only have his descriptions to fall back on (and he is not an unbiased observer). Paul described his opponents as boastful, braggarts, who only wanted to see influence and gain power. They bragged about what they knew, who they knew, and why the Corinthians should follow them. Paul is never one to back down from a challenge so he plays their game as well. But instead of boasting about his strengths, he boasts about his weakness.

Now when was the last time you boasted about what you can’t do? We usually don’t describe that as boasting. Instead, even our humble brags are about pointing out how awesome we are. Paul, however, feels compelled to talk about his weakness. Weakness is defined as something we can’t do. But weakness can also mean something else. As Professor David Fredrickson writes, “To be strong means to be self-contained and self-identical, even as the world is falling apart around you. [Weakness – in the ancient Greek], on the other hand, means coming undone. It frequently referred to sickness and disease, but it also points, in a more general sense, to what we know about but can’t quite define: “human weakness,” which might be thought of as the failure of resolve or the lack of fortitude in the face of despair.”

Paul is boasting about coming undone. Paul is saying that he has been given a power that isn’t about having strength over the people around you. Real power and real strength, as Jesus defines it, is about loving others to the point where we personally come undone. We rarely want to become undone and there is a danger when the relationships we are in causes us to fall apart in unhealthy ways. Yet, when we are in a healthy relationship with each other and with Jesus, we are drawn closer to the one that brings us a full, connected, and generous life. When we boast about Jesus, we’re pointing out how he is giving us a new identity: one that celebrates us, loves us, and unites us with the world and every bit of heaven.

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 7th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/8/2018.

Reflection: Your Abundance

As you read this, I’m exhausted. Today marks the official end of the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. Coleen, Brendan, and I have been at the Gathering since Wednesday. On Thursday, we spent the day in the Youth Gathering’s Interactive Center which is an entire convention center converted into a ministry theme park. We participated in water challenges, physically seeing how far people in the world need to walk to get fresh water. We donated blood and could, if we waited long enough in line, to build a home with Habitat for Humanity. We created faith-based art, played games, ran through an obstacle course, and much more. On Friday, we spent the day with everyone from New Jersey in a fun worship based event. Yesterday was our service learning day. As I write this, I have no idea what our service project will be (we’ll discover it that morning) but I know we’ll give back to the local community. I know at this moment that I am feeling drained, exhausted, and limited. Yet the Gathering reminds all of us that our God is abundant.

In today’s letter from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Paul is talking to the community in Corinth about money. Paul is collecting funds from the community in Corinth to deliver to the church in Jerusalem. He’s encouraging the Corinthians to finish their pledge and send their money to Jerusalem. This request by Paul is pretty amazing because the church Corinth probably had no deep connections to the church in Jerusalem. Both cities were very different. Jerusalem was old, with Judaism at the heart of what it stood for. Corinth was newer, recently colonized by former Roman solders. The church in Corinth was gentile and most were new to the faith. According to tradition, the church in Jerusalem was older, Jewish, and had James as their leader. On the surface, there was no need for the community in Corinth to support the church in Jerusalem.

Yet Paul invites us to look at giving in a very Jesus kind of way. When we give, we’re not only saying something about our self; we’re also making a very specific claim about God. Our God is a God of abundance. God’s creating of the world and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were acts rooted in God’s abundance. When we give, we are not giving out of our limitations (our limited income, time, or talents). Rather, when we give, we are giving out of our abundance. There are plenty of ways our budgets, time, and gifts feel very limited. We are over scheduled human beings, with limited perspectives, and bills that need to be paid. But our faith is rooted in a Jesus whose abundance brought him to the Cross and saved the world. This abundance is why you are part of Jesus’ holy family. This abundance is why Jesus loves you. We have a God who is abundant and we are invited to be just as abundant too.

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 6th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/1/2018.

Asleep on a cushion: Where we sometimes want Jesus to Be

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41

My sermon from 5th Sunday after Pentecost (June 24, 2018) on Mark 4:35-41. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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Let me know if this has happened to you. You come home after a busy day and you’re completely worn out. Your feet hurt. Your back is sore. And your brain can’t think straight. You take off your jacket with the intention of hanging it in the hall closet but gravity is extra strong today so the jacket slides off the hanger and lands on the floor. You could pick the jacket up but you need a moment to ready yourself. And it’s in that moment when something shows up to remind us that we’re not alone. Because without warning and without us even noticing, our pets sneak up and sit on that jacket. These fuzzy and scaly super spies will sit on anything that falls onto the floor. A stray jacket becomes a new bed. A shirt that didn’t make it into the laundry basket becomes their new lounge. In fact, anything that lands on the floor – from bubble wrap to a vinyl raincoat to a new couch cushion – everything becomes a pet’s new throne. Our pets know what we don’t want them to sit on and so that’s exactly what they do. They curl up on it, fall asleep, and look downright adorable. We want to move them but we feel bad. So we leave them there on that jacket, shirt, or cushion, and we just watch them, wondering when we got so gullible.

I’m pretty sure the disciples, in our reading from the gospel according to Mark today, didn’t think Jesus looked super adorable as he slept on that cushion in the boat. But they probably did wonder when they got so gullible about Jesus. They were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, a shallow lake that several of the disciples had fished in for years. They knew this lake and they knew how quickly storms showed up. Once the weather started to shift, the disciples knew the threat that was coming. These followers of Jesus looked at the storm around them, knowing it was too late to turn back. So they looked at the boat itself, hoping it was strong enough to last. But their boat was small, the size of a large canoe, and the waves started flooding it. They realized how much trouble they were in and it’s then when they see Jesus, still asleep, on a cushion.

The disciples looked around and knew exactly the terror they were getting into. But in that very same moment, they looked at Jesus, and they were confused. Here was their teacher, their rabbi, who could cast out demons, cure the sick, and make someone’s withered hand brand new. This Jesus had spent the last few chapters preaching, teaching, healing, and inviting different kinds of people from different kinds of nations to cross their borders to see him. The disciples had seen him do amazing things and watched him bring new life to those society wanted to keep separated and locked away. Jesus, as he was, is God’s love lived out loud. Yet in this moment, as the storm raged, Jesus slept and I bet the disciples probably wondered why they were following him. We, like those first followers of Jesus, rarely imagine him to be a heavy sleeper. When trouble shows up, we want Jesus to be ready. We hope, and sometimes expect, Jesus to see our need and to fix us, right away. When we pray, we know how we want him to act. So when the storm comes, we want Jesus to be awake, like a well trained service dog, ready to respond. When we are in need, we don’t want Jesus to be asleep on a cushion.

But if we’re honest, there are times in our lives when Jesus napping on a cushion is exactly where we want him to be. Before the storm came, we have no hint in scripture that the disciples minded that Jesus was asleep. They were busy sailing their ships, rigging the sails, rowing the oars, and they had no problem with a Jesus snoring the evening away. As long as their journey was going the way they expected; as long as they were traveling along the path they found comfortable; as long as they thought Jesus wasn’t needed right away – the disciples were fine living as if Jesus wasn’t really there. Sure, Jesus was literally in the boat with them, but he was quiet, in the background, and he wasn’t causing any fuss. Jesus wasn’t in their way. Before the storm, he was the easy kind of Jesus to get along with because his nap induced silence seemed to affirm the status quo they were living in. When our life is going well or even when it’s just okay; when our challenges are real but they don’t confront a deep part of who we are – a Jesus asleep on the cushion is the kind of Jesus we expect we need. It’s a Jesus we assume we already know. It’s a Jesus we want to stay quiet. And we want him to be sleeping until the storm finally comes.

So I can understand, at a gut level, why the first thing out of the disciples’ mouth is: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” They didn’t ask for help. They didn’t ask to be saved. They simply wondered why Jesus didn’t care? I don’t know many people who haven’t asked this same question. And that question might be the most human and faithful question we can ask. When our heart breaks, when our strength fails, and when we notice the evil that surrounds us – asking if Jesus is asleep on a cushion is the most normal thing we can possibly do. We want him to act; we want him to show up; we want him to make his presence known. And we think, deep in our gut, that we know exactly what Jesus’ action will look like.

But we really don’t. And the disciples had no idea either. Scripture doesn’t tell us what the disciples thought Jesus might do but we know, based on their last question, that the calming of the storm wasn’t on their mind. Jesus slept because he trusted something the disciples didn’t. He knew that every single disciple and every person on those boats had Jesus, right there, with them. In the moments when we feel like we don’t need him, Jesus is there. And in those moments when we do, he’s there too. Having Jesus in our life doesn’t mean that we won’t face storms. And it doesn’t mean that the waves that hit us won’t swamp whatever ship we’re in. But when we have Jesus, when he comes to us in our baptism, when we meet him at the communion table, and when he shows up as we gather in his name – when we have Jesus, we have a savior who is with us 24/7. And this Jesus makes a difference in every moment of our lives. When Jesus, after he calmed the storm, asked the disciples, “Have you still no faith?” Jesus wasn’t asking them about what they think or what they believe. Instead, he’s asking if they have trust. And like a pet who shows up, uninvited and unannounced, to make their presence known by sitting on a jacket we didn’t hang up, Jesus is always with us and he invites us to trust that, no matter what, he will always show up and he will carry us through.

Amen.

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Children’s Sermon: BLESS

Bring several different kinds of stuffed animals (hopefully 1 for each kid). Make sure they’re the kind of animals not typically brought to a blessing of the animals event.
Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So today is a fun day because we’re worshipping in a new space (the fellowship hall) and we’re surrounded by….animals! Describe all the different animals that you see. They’re here for a very special reason. They’re here because we’re going to bless them.

It’s a bit of an odd thing to bless something. We don’t do that all the time. We usually only do it when someone sneezes. They’ll sneeze Ah-choo! And we’ll sometimes tell them God Bless You. And that’s a blessing. It’s a strange blessing but it’s one of the few times in our daily life when we’ll say the word “bless.” But we don’t have to only use the word bless when we sneeze. In fact, God invites us to bless everything.

Because a blessing is three things. A blessing, first, is a celebration. We see something or someone in our life who is about to do something difficult or new or maybe just needs us to point it out to other people that this is important – so every blessing is a celebration – of noticing what’s important and asking God to see it too. An blessing is, second, a prayer. We talk to God and ask that this person or animal or object is given all the good and loving and wonderful things that God can give. A blessing is, third, an act of faith. It’s when we say, in a very public way, that God is important to us – and we trust in God – and so we ask God to bring goodness to whatever it is that we bless. God knows what this person or thing or animal needs. And God will be with them always. But we can, as followers of Jesus, take a moment to celebrate something special, to pray about it with God, and to trust that God will be loving and kind and awesome.

So that’s why we bless all sorts of things. We bless weddings and people. We bless babies when they’re born and gardens when we plant them. We bless animals because of all the love the bring in our lives and we also bless each other – each and every week at the end of the service – because all of us need to remember just how loved we are and just how important we are to God.

Now who do you think can do blessings? Pastors. Pastors can! And that’s part of what I get to do. But we can also bless each other. So I brought these animals up here so that you can practice blessings. So let’s try it.

Pass out the animals. Practice Cookie the Goldfish, creature of God, may the Father Son and Holy Spirit bless you now and forever. Amen

That’s it! You just blessed something. So later today, you can bless your friends, your siblings, and definitely your parents because we all need blessing sometimes. And God invites us to bless all things and all people every day – because when we bless, we share God’s love.

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 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 6/24/2018.

Reflection: Ambassador for Christ

What’s the best title you’ve ever had? Titles usually matter in the places where we work. At a grocery store, we might be a “cashier” or an “associate manager.” At an office, we might be a “clerk” or a “receptionist.” Titles might reference our accomplishments (Dr, Ph,D, MPH), letting people know what we’ve done and what we know. But titles can also be ambiguous and varied. When I built websites for a living, I gave myself a new title almost every month. Every client I worked with required a different kind of a title. I was a “designer,” “graphic designer,” “web designer,” “web programmer,” “project manager,” or “new media expert.” My titles changed all the time but I did keep one that was consistent. On my business cards, I took a joke from the comedian Mitch Hedberg, calling myself “Marc, Potential Lunch Winner.”*

Titles, however, aren’t restricted to what we do. We come with titles the moment we are born. We are parents, children, siblings, and relatives. We are caregivers, care-receivers, senior citizens, and children. Once we enter the world, we are human beings. These titles are not defined by what we do. They are defined by the relationships we are given because we are people in God’s beloved world. In the world of work, our worth is defined by the title we have. In the world as God sees it, our worth is reflected in the titles God gives us. We are not limited by the titles God gives us because the the God who created, sustained, and died for us gives us a title of value nothing can take away from us.

We are, in our baptism, given a title that does not depend on what we do. We are declared as part of the body of Christ. We are made into Christians. This is the title that describes who we are and whose we are. And this is who we are, this title then informs everything else we do. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:13, we are made “ambassadors for Christ.” As an ambassador, we are Christ’s representative in the world. We are called to follow him. We are given his ministry of reconciliation and hope. We love like he did and still does. Today’s passage from 2 Corinthians is Paul’s attempt to describe what Jesus’ ministry looks like. It’s centered in patience, kindness, truthful speech, and genuine love. It’s a ministry that isn’t easy and will often make us (and others) uncomfortable. But we get to do the hard business of love because we are loved. You are Christ’s ambassador. May all of us live this title fully and faithfully.

*I was one of those folks who put their business card in the jar at every business he went to. I really wanted to win one of the free lunches they were raffling off. I never did.

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 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 6/24/2018.