Children’s Sermon: Not Included.

Bring the light bug that needs batteries..
This is from Dollar Store Children’s Sermons. Click that link and watch it!

I’m so happy you’re here today!

So I brought something with me today. What does it look like? A bug. And it has things in the back. What do those look like? Stars. Right., stars. So this is a bug with stars in the back. And look! There are some buttons. Before we touch the buttons to see if they work, do you have a guess what this toy does? Accept guesses. Let’s hit the buttons and see what happens.

Nothing happens.

Nothing happen! Huh. I wonder why. Maybe something is missing. What does it need? Accept answers. Oh wait! This part on the bottom says it needs …what? Batteries! So let’s open it up and seee….no batteries! That’s why it doesn’t work. It needs batteries to do what it’s supposed to do.

In the story about Jesus today, Jesus is going to use a fancy word to describe himself. He’s going to call himself a cornerstone. A cornerstone is a. If stone used for a building. It’s part of its foundation. It’s there so you can build the rest of the building on top of it. Without the cornerstone, without this foundation, the building struggles to stand tall. It might fall over. And even if it doesn’t, it still going to be weak. The cornerstone is necessary to make everything work the way it’s supposed to.

Jesus is our cornerstone. Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his promise to be with us, right now, is the cornerstone to our life. It’s how we know God’s ideas do how we love and care for each other, how we treat each other, and how we stay close to God even when it’s hard to do that. When we have Jesus, and we keep focused on Jesus, we have what our faith needs to grow and be strong. Jesus is, in many ways, our batteries for life. Put batteries in. Turn on. See it shine. And because Jesus is near you, that let’s you shine and love and help and be the people God wants you to be.

Thank you for being up 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 18th Sunday After Pentecost, 10/08/2017.

Oriented to the Son: Isaiah 5

What do you always get when you go grocery shopping? For me and my house, we get grapes. Each week, I make a pitstop at the crates of grapes. The crates are usually stacked and taller than me. The grapes are black, red, green, seedless, and seeded. When grapes are on sale, I celebrate. When they are not, I buy them anyways. My youngest and I love grapes. And we both know just how wild grapes can be.

In a previous life, my landlord grew grapes in his backyard in Queens. They crawled up a lattice, forming a canopy over a concrete deck. Those grapes were green, plump, and sweet. When I moved to Paramus, my yard was full of wild grapes. Vines choked trees, bushes, and the house itself. Those grapes were small and tasted awful. The well cared for grapes in Queens and the unruly ones in Paramus both, however, chased the sun. The spots on the ground where the rays of the sun touched were the places where grapes sprouted. Without the sun, nothing grew.

Vineyards take work. It takes time and effort to make grapes grow the way we want them to. In ancient times, vineyards were a sign of wealth and prestige. They were also a metaphor for love, fertility, and relationships. The care needed to make a vineyard work was a stand-in for the care needed to make a relationship blossom. When Isaiah starts our first reading today (Isaiah 5:1-7), people think they know what he is talking about. They look for words of love but they are met with something else. Isaiah is speaking to the entire community, including its political leaders, priests, and those with enough food to eat. He shows them the world they’ve created. God, who cares for God’s people, is not seeing God’s people care for each other in the same way. Where God expects justice and help for the vulnerable, God is seeing oppression, violence, and death. God expected God’s people to share a love-song with each other but there’s only injustice instead.

So how do we sing a love-song for each other? This isn’t easy. Disagreements are a normal part of life and hurting each other is something we are good at. We do not usually notice the ways we harm the people around us. We can become lost in our own vineyard, focused only on ourselves. But we also have a way to move past this vineyard of one. We have the Son. Through the gift of baptism, we are united with the one who knows how to keep God’s love at the center of everything. When we keep close of Jesus, the fruit of our work is changed. What we do becomes life-giving to those around us. When we stay oriented to the Son in a conscious and intentional way, justice, healing, and wholeness becomes all that we do.

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 18th Sunday After Pentecost, 10/08/2017.

Renovation: Violent Texts after Violent Acts

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Matthew 21:33-46

My sermon from the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (October 8, 2017) on Matthew 21:33-46. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below. Note: the manuscript isn’t perfect. It could have used another going through.


Growing up, I had a friend who bragged that his dad was the very first person in Colorado to buy a red minivan. This “state changing” event took place in the late 80s and was as a point of personal pride for my friend. Before this, roadways in Colorado were blah – filled with tan, beige, and dull people movers. But once his dad made the bold and visionary choice to buy a bright red Dodge Caravan, the streets of Colorado were never the same. Now, if I’m honest, I never really believed my friend. His dad was a nice guy but he was never a trend setter. I couldn’t see him somehow convincing the entire mini-van buying population of Colorado to change. Instead, I thought my friend never saw the red minivans on the road before because until his dad bought one, he didn’t have to. Minivans are usually boring vehicles to look at. They’re not designed to be seen or paid attention to. But once a red minivan was sitting in my friend’s driveway, once he had to ride in one to and from school everyday, his eyes were finally opened and he saw the red minivan truth that was all around him. He thought the world had suddenly changed once his dad bought a red minivan but it hadn’t. My friend just had no reason to see any red minivans until his dad came home with one. This phenomenon of not noticing what’s really around you until it becomes personal is something that’s been in the back of my head these last few days. I think this phenomenon shows up regularly when we read and hear scripture. We can read the same text from the Bible over and over again but then something changes and we see something we haven’t seen before. We might hear the words spoken by a different voice, experience them in a new place, or just be at a point in our life when these words impact us in a very different way. And sometimes, there are events, events outside our control that just seem to keep happening. And then the words we hear on Sunday take on a new meaning.

For me, in light of last Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, I wish we didn’t have these scripture passages today. I wish the passage from Isaiah didn’t say bloodshed. I wish the parable Jesus shared in Matthew didn’t talk about people being violently killed. And I wish Jesus didn’t describe himself as a cornerstone that somehow bashes and breaks the people it encounters. Couldn’t this be a Sunday where Jesus welcomed little children? Couldn’t it be a Sunday where Jesus healed someone? If I picked the Bible passages for each Sunday, something more…comforting…would be on our agenda today. But today’s readings were assigned by our lectionary, a three year cycle of texts a team of scholars from many different Christian traditions put together years ago. When they crafted this cycle, they didn’t know Las Vegas would happen. They didn’t know that another record breaking hurricane would be hitting the gulf or that 88% of Puerto Rico would still be out of power after hurricane Maria hit 18 days ago. They didn’t know that the threat of war might be keeping us up at night. They didn’t know about the countless things dominating our news cycle right now. And those crafters of the lectionary also didn’t know what our personal lives would be like, right now. They didn’t know about the fears or anxieties or worries we brought with us into church today. They didn’t know about our broken hearts, our financial concerns, or the hard choices we’re being asked to make. Those scholars didn’t know the personal prayers we repeat every night, those secrets that we hold and wished we could share, and the tears we shed for our loved ones who seem to find a new rock bottom everyday.

Now I believe that the lectionary was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe God was personally involved in making sure we hear the words God knows we need. But that’s also a bit of a problem because we, sadly, aren’t God. As much as we would like to tell God how we want God to make us feel, God wants more than being reduced to some kind of feel-good magician in our lives. God wants us to know honest-to-goodness love. God wants us to experience true mercy. God wants us to expect unbelievable hope. And God wants us to live, right now, knowing that God made a bold choice by saying “you are worth living and dying for.” That kind of life isn’t going to always feel good or comfortable because that kind of life requires us to see the world as it truly is. We can’t act as if our personal perspectives and our personal experiences are the one true reality. We live in the world God made and tends. We are not the center of the world. The words Jesus shares with us are not always peaceful because we are not as peaceful as God made us to be. Jesus talked about violent tenants, killings, and other acts of violence because these are images and experiences we are all familiar with. We might never personally experience a mass shooting but if we can hear about it, imagine it, and feel that kind of terror in our souls, then we are never as distant from the kind of violence as we might like to imagine ourselves to be. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and pretend that this is normal, that this is just the way things are meant to be, and that there is nothing we can do change it. That way of thinking assumes that violence is part of what God’s reality is all about. But when we see Jesus, and pay attention to his story, that thought is re-written. When Jesus was arrested and threatened by clubs and swords, he did not lash out. When he was tortured, interrogated, and sentenced to the most violent and shameful death known in the ancient Roman world, he called for no army from above to save him. And when the same crowd that inspired fear in the Pharisees and sadducees today demanded Jesus crucifixion just a few days later, Jesus prayed for those who killed him. And then when he rose on that first Easter morning, he sent his followers to preach, teach, serve, and heal. The violence we inflict on each other is not part of God’s normal. It’s not part of the kingdom of God that Jesus talked constantly about. When violence happens, we mourn, we shed tears, we cry out, we protect each other, and we ask why. And then we move forward, living into a reality where the pain we inflict on each other is not treated like it’s some kind of natural disaster, some kind of act of God that we are helpless to do something against. Instead we notice the true acts of God, the acts of Jesus himself, who did not let our violence win and who promised that no matter what may come, the violence in this world will never overwhelm the eternal love, mercy, and grace God gives to you. Because you are still worth living, dying, and rising for. You are worth living in God’s eternal reality where violence is no more. And since you are worth all of that, we are invited to see experience a foretaste of that reality right now.



A Reflection on Philippians 2: Knowing Our Own Authority

Following Jesus (i.e. faith) takes work. Now as Lutherans, we are (rightly!) always suspicious when the words faith and work are next to each other. Faith is always a gift from God. We cannot, through our own effort, ever say “I believe” and mean it as much as we should. Instead, it’s the Spirit that reveals Jesus’ love and care for us and the world. This gift changes us. We are different and it takes work to live a different kind of life.

I believe Jesus expects, and knows, we can do this. God provides ways for us to grow. The Spirit guides us, Jesus’ presence holds us, and the Scriptures help reveal who God is and what a relationship with God looks like. Part of our work is being interpreters. We read Scripture. We analyze the world we live in. We reflect on our own experiences. A faith-filled life is a life of interpretation and a life that knows change. We know life isn’t constant. Situations change. Relationships change. Our own bodies change. Our faith can change. But Jesus’ love doesn’t change. Faith isn’t easy but if we wanted easy, we wouldn’t follow Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading from Philippians 2:1-13 includes the earliest Christian hymn we know. Verses 6 through 11 are a song. The song is more than a description of Jesus. It’s lyrics put to music because Jesus is an experience. And part of that experience is reflecting on who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and how that makes a difference to them. Jesus knew he was God but emptied himself of his power, authority, and freedom to be human. He chose to be like a slave, one who had no control over the violence inflicted on his body. He lived out loud what God’s kingdom looks like. And the government and spiritual authorities killed him for it.

Jesus is an experience and a model for our lives. This way of life puts the interests of others before ourselves. And this isn’t easy. To put others first means we need to know who we are and what our interests are. We need to know people different from us and what their interests are too. We need to know what experiences are foundational to who we are. We need to learn about experiences we don’t have but other people do. We might not think we have any power or authority but our gender, race, social class, and wealth give us different kinds of authority that explicitly and implicitly impacts the people around us. This kind of reflection, observation, and interpretation will make us uncomfortable. But Jesus knows we can handle it. Jesus knows we can live a different kind of life because we are not doing this work on our own. We have the Spirit. We have each other. We have Jesus. And even when we are uncomfortable, we are still called to love.

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 17th Sunday After Pentecost, 10/01/2017.

Children’s Sermon: God’s Bunch o’ Love

Bring a Banana Bunch.
This is just from Dollar Store Children’s Sermons. Click that link and watch it!

I’m so happy you’re here today!

So I brought something with me today. What is it? A bunch of bananas. Right bananas. I bought these on Friday during my weekly trip to Costco. They were pretty green when I got them so I left them out to turn yellow. I don’t eat bananas a lot but my kids enjoy them. Do you like them? Yes. No. Accept answers.

Let’s pretend today that we love bananas. Like love them. Like need to eat them every day or it feels like something was missing in our day. So we love, love, love bananas!

Now let’s look at these bananas. Now we all know they’re bananas because this is what they look like. But are they all the same? No! Some are different sizes. Describe the bananas and he they are different. Different sizes, colors, shapes, and some will make us fill more full than the others. Each one of these bananas is different! But they’re all bananas and we love bananas so after we eat just one, no matter its size or shape or color, we’re going to feel happy, and whole, and satisfied.

Jesus tells a story today that reminded me about these bananas. In the story, someone has a large field and needs people to spend the day picking food off it. Some people start at the beginning of the day, some start after lunch, and some start right before dinner time. All the workers work a different amount. Some worked all day and some worked for only an hour. But the person who owns the field pays everyone the same generous amount. And the owner pays them all the same, regardless of who did what, because the owner wants to be generous. And that generosity is a picture of God’s love for us. No matter who we are, how tall we are, how old we are, or what we do – God keeps loving us. God keeps helping us. God keeps being with us. God’s love is generous and God keeps giving that love to us, showing us how we’re supposed to love the people around us. So like these bananas, it doesn’t matter who we are or what we look like, God keeps loving us because that’s just what God does.

Thank you for being up 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 16th Sunday After Pentecost, 9/24/2017.

Eraser: Jonah is more than a whale.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Jonah 3:10-4:11

My sermon from the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 24, 2017) on Jonah 3:10-4:11. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


A couple of miles up the road from here, in Park Ridge, is a big cemetery on the right hand side of the road. Opposite the cemetery is Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church so everyone thinks the graveyard belongs to them, but it doesn’t. Instead, the cemetery belongs to Pascack Reformed Church which has been in the area for a long long time. This graveyard, like all active graveyards, is both new and old. Located inside its property lines are the remains of people who were buried this year and also those from the earliest farm families who first colonized the area. In the 1830s, free blacks started to be entombed there and they were followed years later by African-American veterans of the Civil War. Since the cemetery is old, some of the grave markers have toppled over, been buried, or had their markings rubbed away. But, overall, we know most of the people who were buried there. Yet there’s one section in that cemetery that’s a little mysterious. Behind the parsonage is a hollow in the trees that extends down the hill and to the creek below. There are no grave markers there. Only bushes, grass, and leaves. It looks almost empty…except it’s not. Instead, it’s an old section of the graveyard that might even pre-date the graves we know about from the 1740s. According to word of mouth, that hollow is where Native Americans were buried. Now there’s a debate among local historical societies about who is really there. The hollow has never been scientifically studied and there are no gravestones, of any kind, marking where a body might be. But the words of this graveyard’s existence are still in the air. And the tribes and people that buried their dead there – are, at this point, merely whispers…their names and identities lost to history. In a sense, these Native Americans are still around. We name our roads, towns, and high school mascots after them. But that’s about it. The families that might have remembered the names of those buried in that hollow were replaced by Dutch and Brits, Swedes and Germans, people who took over the land and passed it down to us. The native people who used to call this area home have been forgotten and it’s almost like they never existed. The hollow in that graveyard is the final resting place for a culture, a tribe, and a people that is no more. And that feeling, that reality of a people lost to history, is why Jonah, in our first reading today, is…so upset. As we see in these last verses from his story, Jonah watched as God did a completely ridiculous and unfair thing. God saved the people of Nineveh from destruction even though Nineveh had wiped ten tribes of Israel off the face of the earth.

Nineveh is the capital of the Assyrians, the center of an empire that, in 722 BCE, destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Its capital city, Samaria, was burned. It’s population, ten of the twelve tribes that made up the Israelite people, were deported from their homes. They were forced at spear point to move to cities and villages on the other side of the Assyrian empire. Over time, they lost their traditions. They lost their identity. In short, those ten tribes were lost to history and almost forgotten. Only Jonah, and the remaining Jews around Jerusalem, remembered who they were.

Now, when we remember the story of Jonah, we usually remember the whale. We remember Jonah running away from God’s call. But we usually forget why Jonah refused to go. He didn’t want to bring God’s word to the people who tried to wipe his people off the face the earth. He didn’t want to share God to those he didn’t think were redeemable. Jonah didn’t want the people of Nineveh to hear from God because if God actually spoke to them, then Jonah’s feelings of anger might be undone. Jonah had every right to be angry. And in the system of justice that make sense to us, where retribution is central and people are punished in response to the harm they caused, Nineveh should be destroyed. Jonah should not have to go there. But Jonah, in the end, cannot outrun God. He goes to Nineveh. He spends day and night preaching the same one sentence sermon, telling them to repent. And then….they do. They actually listen. They shouldn’t but they do which makes me think that the Holy Spirit gave them the ears to hear what this prophet from a people they tried to destroy, had to say. And Jonah can’t stand it. Nineveh isn’t supposed to be saved. But God, in the end, is bigger than Jonah. God’s grace and mercy and love are greater than the feelings of hatred and exclusion and violence that cause us to think we can decide who God cares about and who God doesn’t. We want to make our love the limit to God’s love. We want to make the grace we give be the limit to what God can do. We want to decide who gets to exist, who gets to be remembered, and who is finally lost to history. Jonah wanted nothing to do with God’s love. He wanted to erase Nineveh from the world. But the grace of God wanted to do something more. It…loved. God loved the enemy. God loved the ones Jonah thought didn’t deserve mercy, but God gave them mercy anyways. In the end, God loved because Jonah could not. And God showed him and all of us, the only kind of love that can truly change the world.



A Reflection on the Workers in the Vineyard

What does “the kingdom of heaven” bring up? Do you see a vision of clouds, deep blue sky, and angels flying around with wings? Does “the kingdom of heaven” inspire questions about the afterlife or does it cause you to think about life right now? Those first four words are the key to our interpretation of today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew 20:1-16. If the kingdom of heaven is only about heaven, today’s parable is a parable only about faith and belief. But if the kingdom of heaven is about the world right now, today’s parable is about living a faith-filled life.

Matthew is the only gospel that uses the phrase “the kingdom of heaven.” Mark, Luke, and John instead use the “kingdom of God.” We can read these two phrases, I think, interchangeably. “The kingdom of heaven” shows us how God is more than just our personal experience of the world. “The kingdom of God” reminds us how God interacts and cares about the world we live in. God’s kingdom includes the entire world. God’s kingdom has something to say to every kingdom, nation, and even home we create. God’s vision for our life is a vision that stretches from heaven to the earth and back again.

I like Richard Lischer’s description of why parables matter. “The implication of the parables is clear: if one cannot meet the kingdom of God amid the pots and pans of daily life, of what earthly use is the kingdom?”* There are parts of today’s parable that are hard. Why does the landowner get to chose who works and who doesn’t? In the world this story takes place in, what happens to those who are willing to work but are not hired? Do we want God to really be like this choosy landowner? And why does God’s vision of justice seem to punish, or at least be unfair, to those who worked the whole day? But the heart of this story is also a vision of radical equality and grace. And this vision matters right now. The workers’ worth isn’t defined by what they do. They are valued because God says they are. And this vision of justice isn’t something we are asked to wait to experience in the world to come. This justice is something God wants in the world today.

*Richard Lischer, Reading the Parables, 2014. Page 11.

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 16th Sunday After Pentecost, 9/24/2017.

500 Plus. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, October 2017 Edition

On Sunday, October 29, we’re doing something new . . .

This October marks the 500th birthday of the Reformation. Legend has it that Martin Luther wrote 95 thoughts about faith, Jesus and the church (The 95 Theses) and posted them to a church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Scholars debate if this posting actually happened, but we know his words didn’t stay local. His writings spread like wildfire. In a few short years, a new church movement took root, launching new Christian traditions. As Lutherans, the Sunday before October 31st is our annual “birthday party” where we celebrate this Lutheran flavor of the Christian faith that God gifted to us. But our experience of the Christian faith is not the only tradition out there. We are surrounded by Baptists, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Reformed, Church of Christ and more. Each one can trace their start and growth to these 95 thoughts about faith and God. For almost 500 years, the story of Christianity has been reflected in the ways we split apart. As individuals and communities who experience God in different ways, we sometimes separate from each other. Christian history can be described as a history of division. But there’s also a history of unity and coming together. On October 29th, heirs to the Reformation will worship at Christ Lutheran Church.

Pascack Reformed Church and First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) will join us for worship at our church at 10:00 am. A joint choir will sing, and we’ll give thanks for the variety of gifts God gives each of our communities. We’ll celebrate our shared history and also our joint witness as churches who are different but united in Jesus Christ. As communities of faith, we are grateful for the different identities the Holy Spirit has given to each of us. As part of the body of Christ, we are grateful that our differences do not divide us from Jesus. I invite you to be at this joint worship service at 10:00 am on Sunday, October 29th. And let’s discover where the Spirit is leading us in the next 500 years.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

Who Are You: Food Fight Edition

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Romans 14:1-12

My sermon from the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 17, 2017) on Romans 14:1-12. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


This September, for me, is a month filled with weddings. Over Labor Day weekend, I officiated the wedding of my sister-in-law and her fiancée. Two days ago, I was in Beacon, NY, standing next to a roaring waterfall as two people committed themselves to each other. And in less than two weeks, I’ll be in the foothills of Colorado, officiating the wedding of one of my good friends from high school. Each one of these weddings is different. Each one is unique. And each one is filled with rituals. From the ceremony to the reception, each couple has its own vision of how their wedding day will go. The music will be done in a certain way and the DJ will play specific songs at the right time. The center pieces on the table during the reception will be big…or small…full of flowers or with candles floating in water. The ceremony will include traditional vows that are repeated, or vows written by the couple themselves, or I’ll recite the words and wait for the very simple but very powerful “I do.” For the couple and their families, each part of the wedding event is a ritual that requires careful consideration, time, and attention. But there are other rituals at weddings too. And one of my favorite is, as a guest, the ritual of standing at a table, looking at a sea of name cards, trying to find the table I’ll be sitting at during the reception. There’s usually a table at the entrance covered in name tags or a poster with the seating chart printed on. And once I find my name, I then scan all the other names, trying to see who is sitting at the table with me. This ritual of finding our table mates can be nerve wracking. We want to sit with people we know but…what if we don’t? Are the people who will be sitting with us going to be like us or will they be totally weird? Or maybe we’re the weird one and we just don’t know it yet? These and countless other concerns and fears zip through our heads when we’re standing at the seating chart, trying to figure out who we are eating with. And these same feelings and anxieties about who is sitting at our table was right there, in the city of Rome, when Paul wrote his letter 2,000 years ago.

Today’s reading from the letter to the Romans is our last selection from that book for awhile. We spent this whole summer discovering how this community of non-Jews struggled connecting their culture to their faith. The Romans hoped the teachings from this Jew named Jesus would help them master their passions – those feelings and emotions that stop them from being their best selves. The rules and rituals and methods they saw in Jesus’ teaching seemed to provide a way to turn these Romans be into the best Romans they could possibly be. Yet, the rules weren’t so simple to understand. Different people interpreted the rules in different ways. Even when this small community of believers ate together at the 1st century version of coffee hour, conflict happened. Now, this wasn’t a battle between vegetarians and omnivores even though verse 2 sort of sounds like it is. The problem was really about where the meat came from. Meat, in the ancient world, was very expensive. Few people could afford to eat meat on any kind of regular basis. Instead, people waited for these animals to be given out after they were used in a sacrifice. The animals would led into a temple dedicated to some god or goddess. They were prayed over, blessed, and then ritually slaughtered. Once the ceremony was over, the meat was served to anyone who needed it. For some in the Roman community, this meat was free and anyone could eat it because, well, those gods and goddesses didn’t exist. But others felt eating such meat would violate the food laws that even Jesus might have followed. The act of sacrifice made the meat unclean and, in the eyes of God, would harm anyone who ate it. So, at the same table and during the same meal, there would be those who ate meat and those who didn’t – and each side, at a minimum, would see the others are being totally weird.

Yet Paul’s vision of Jesus broke the Romans’ expectations. The meat wasn’t really important; rather, it was the people at the table who mattered the most. Since their baptism put them in a public relationship with Jesus, their relationship with each other mattered too. They were no longer just individual Romans trying to live their best lives. They had put on Jesus and are now the hands and feet, arms and legs, of God’s Son. Even though their bodies might feel like they did before and they might still struggle with their thoughts, emotions, and passions that caused them to sometimes hurt those around them, these Romans were no longer just themselves. They’re Jesus too. They carry with them all the promises God makes to all of us – a promise of love, presence, and fidelity. Jesus gave himself fully over to the task of reconciling the world to its Creator; to the task of showing love to those shouldn’t be loved; and saying that everyone, including you, has value. Jesus devoted himself to his neighbors. He gave himself to a world that didn’t fully understand him and who killed him for sharing his table with people he wasn’t supposed to. We can imagine Jesus, at that wedding in Cana, finding his name on a little card, seeing his table number, and refusing to scope out who he might be sitting with. Instead, he would be the first at the table, ready to welcome and care for all who sit by him, whether they realized he was Jesus or not. Our ritual of trying to foresee or maybe even control who we sit with is replaced by a Jesus who is already at the table, ready to eat and share and love whoever shows up. This kind of ritual isn’t a ritual that is easy. It’s an approach to life that is downright scary. It means we have to talk to people, to all kinds of people, and learn who they are and what their story is. We need to know who at the table eats meat, who doesn’t, and why. We need to know ourselves well, to discover the side eyes of judgement we’re throwing at those around us. And we need to be flexible in our own way of life so that we can adjust to the needs of whoever God puts in our path. Living this kind of life takes work. It does takes effort. It takes an imagination and a faith that knows we won’t be doing this work on our own. Instead we get to live this kind of life because Jesus has already given his life for each of us. We get to serve our neighbor, to bear their burdens, to share their tables, and to help them thrive because the Lord, each and every day, helps us stand gracefully, faithfully, and wonderfully, tall.