Homily for the Wedding of S. and L.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:12-14

My sermon from the wedding of S. and L. on October 14, 2018. Translation from New International Version.


For me, one of the struggles of Fall is trying to figure out what to put on. The weather is usually a little too warm in the sun but it’s also a little too cold in the shade. Magazines, tv, and our favorite fashionable friends on Instagram try to remind us to dress in layers. But some of us have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out which hoodie or sweater or shawl to wear. I bet many of the folks here spent a good amount of mental energy this week trying to figure out what to put on for today. The dress, tux, and shoes might have been picked up months ago but we didn’t really know what else we’d have to bring. This past week, the weather was all over the place. If your wedding had happened just a few days ago we’d either be sweltering and melting into our expensive shoes or decked out in our finest yellow rain slickers and boots. Yet today has turned out to be a perfect, crisp Fall day. It’s exactly the kind of day you both wished it would be. We don’t need to worry about what extra thing we need to put on. Instead, we get to celebrate what you already bring. And that reminds me of something S.said when I met with you two – a few months ago. As you told me your personal stories, I wanted to hear more than just the details of your individuals lives. I wanted to know how you two are together. And S. said, very simply, that you both, first and foremost, are best friends.

And that’s because you two have already spent a lot of time doing the hard work of putting on love. Love is more than just an emotion. Love is that one thing that affirms and supports and values who we are and who we are becoming. Love opens us to what God is doing in the world and connects us to the special people God is putting in our lives. The three snippets of scripture we just heard comes from letters Paul wrote to small churches scattered all over the Mediterranean. He, liked L. and S., loved to travel – and his journey brought him to places he never thought he’d end up in. These small communities of faith were not perfect. There were squabbles, conflicts, and people who didn’t always get along. So Paul wrote to them over and over again, reminding them of who they are and whose they are. He pointed to their story, to their history, and what made them so beloved. The love you two share invites each of you to become more of who God is calling you to be. Clothe yourselves not only with the amazing outfits you’re wearing today. But, especially with your spouse and in your home, always put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and – especially – patience. And if you can do that, if you can keep clinging to what makes you exactly who you are supposed to be, then whether you’re sweltering, rained on, or facing one of those storms that life will bring your way – you two will keep living out of your love. And that love will always grow.

Jesus’ Stewardship Plan: Giving it all

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10:17-31

My sermon from the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 14, 2018) on Mark 10:17-31. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


What have you loved this week?

Better yet, what have you said “love” to this week?

If a random stranger asked each of us to make a list of every love we said, I’m sure our first attempt would be something presentable. We’d put down the names of our families, our friends, and some random event we saw and enjoyed. The stranger would take a look at our list and probably force us to do it again. We’d have to admit that maybe we didn’t actually say “love” out loud this week and we’d erase the names on the list. Or maybe we’d need to add to it after remembering how many times we said we loved that shirt or song or food or whatever. Some of us hesitate saying the word love while others are a bit more carefree. This inhibition or exuberance around the word love comes from somewhere. In some cultures, boys are told to not say “love” – to reserve it to the point where we might not say it at all. We might have learned this kind of love language from our families, mimicking how often our parents said they loved us or each other. Or we might be very careful with the word love because we’d experienced too much heartbreak. Love is a powerful word. It’s a noun, a verb, an emotion, an action, an experience, a reality, and – according to Scripture – Love is God itself. Yet in the gospel according to Mark, the word “love” appears in only 3 verses. And in two of those verses, Jesus was quoting the Old Testament. So there’s only one place in all this gospel where Mark used the word “love” all on his own. And that happened in our reading today – at verse 21 – when Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him.

I’ve joked in the past that our next church stewardship and funding campaign should be based on these verses from the tenth chapter of Mark. When people ask how much they should give, we could point to verse 21 and then sit down. Instead of asking for a tithe, for just 10% of what we make, Jesus seems to be asking for it all. He continued this theme a few verses later by pointing out how hard it is for those with riches to enter the Kingdom of God. Now, over the centuries, we’ve tried really hard to run away from Jesus’ words in this text. In the middle ages, a theory developed centered on Jesus’ words about a camel and a needle. Some theologians claimed there was a gate in ancient Jerusalem called “the needle,” and that a camel, using funky body positions, could inch its way through it. So if this was right, then those with wealth could enter the kingdom of God but they’d need to be a bit more flexible to make that happen. The problem is that theory is completely work. There was no gate named “the needle” and Jesus really said that it’s easier for a camel – a giant animal – to go through the eye of a sewing needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus’ words here can scare us – so, at times, we’ve turned against the rich young man saying he lied about keeping the law. Or we say he’s too rich, a stand-in for a different wealth class of people we’re not apart of. But that kind of thinking is designed to get us off the hook because we can always imagine someone who is richer than us. My personal trick is to do a close reading of the text, notice that Jesus said to give everything to the poor, and then point to my mortgage and my student loan debt from seminary. We try, as best we can, to manage this text, to make it feel safe. Because, if we have a bed to sleep in, if we know where our next meal is coming from, if we have health insurance, and if we have access to credit, jobs, and other kinds of opportunities – these riches are ones that we don’t want to give to that rich young man. We don’t want to be him. Because we also know that when Jesus showed him, the only person in the entire gospel according to Mark described as being loved – when Jesus showed him how to change his life, he left – sad and full of sorrow.

It’s hard to imagine experiencing Jesus’ love – and then leaving, feeling sad. We don’t want to meet God through prayer, or at Holy Communion, or through the love of our neighbors and have our sense of self torn in two. The rich young man was loved not because he was rich or faithful or because he followed the rules. Jesus just loved him because that’s who Jesus is. That gift of love is something we all want. But it’s a gift that isn’t a commodity that we can store and keep. Rather Jesus’ love is an action, a force, that compels us to discover the truth about who we are. We want to turn Jesus’ love into something we can possess because if we can do that, then we can fit Jesus into the society we’ve already created. People’s worth, we think, is based on what they are allowed to have: whether that’s authority, power, wealth, or status. We’ve defined people by what they possess and those with more are worth more. We act as if life is about accumulating experiences, opportunities, and whatever helps us think we are “self-sufficient.” In other words, we want to earn and grab onto what we imagine eternal life to be. The danger of wealth, of this constant need to possess, is that it can trick us to think we are following God’s rules while we self-justify every divide we create in the world. It’s at that moment when we turn Jesus into a possession instead of a Savior that Jesus finally tells us the truth, undoing the world we’ve built up while showing us something new.

Jesus does more in this passage than tell the rich young man to sell what he owns. Jesus also shows him how to love. We see in Jesus’ own actions and words a formula for what love looks like. In verse 21, Jesus’ response to the rich young man is to look and see him. Jesus, in that moment, sees everything about him – where he comes, where he’s going, and what his entire life looks like. Love can’t be limited to only ourselves. Love compels us to fully see the other – and in that process, connect with them. So after seeing the rich young man, Jesus tells him to sell what he owns so that he can come and follow him. Every one of the actions Jesus highlights points to what love is all about. Love isn’t about gaining a possession. Love is about gaining a relationship with the creator of the universe and, in that process, forming a bond with the world and all the people God loves. We want to split the world and it’s people into groups based on what we think they should possess. Yet Jesus’ love breaks through the dividing lines we draw up, connecting us to each other even though the world wants to keep us apart. Through Christ, we are invited to say “love” to more people than we might, at first, admit. We are called to make that “love” a reality by using the gifts God gave us, including our wealth, to create connections rather than re-entrenching our divisions. And it’s through Jesus where we discover a new way of life that is about more than giving something up. Instead, when we connect with each other, loving people in the same way Jesus first loved us, that’s when we’ll notice that our entire life is finally starting to grow.



Children’s Sermon: What to do with hard texts?

Bring the carrots and other stuff from the Community Garden

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So it was a bit cold this morning, wasn’t it? It finally feels like fall. Leaves are falling from the trees, acorns are falling and making dents on our cars, and we’re starting to wear sweaters and long pants. It’s fall! What are some other things we do to get ready for fall? Accept answers.

Another thing we need to do is, if we garden, is to do our last harvests of the year and clean up the gardens so they’re ready for next year. On Tuesday at 5:30 pm, we’ll clean up our Genesis Garden. We’ll do a final harvest which will let us donate over 1200 lbs of vegetables this. We’ll clean up some tomatoes stakes and more. Everyone is invited to help out – and the more we do, the better it will be when we start the garden again next spring.

Now my family and I have are members of a community garden in the town we live. So in the spring, we got a bunch of different seeds, walked over to the garden, went to our plot, planted our seeds – and…then didn’t really go back. We went back a few times but…uh…I wasn’t very good at being a gardener this year. We had large sunflowers, tomatoes vines that grew everywhere, and pumpkin vines that…almost had pumpkins. I didn’t tend or take care of the garden like I should have. But I knew, since it’s fall, that I needed to go back and clear it out. So I did that on Friday with Oliver and George. And I was surprised what I found.

Because even though I didn’t do a good job harvesting or taking care of the garden, stuff still grew. And I’d like to show you what grew. Show off the super green tomatoes and the carrots.

Now that carrots are special. Most of the carrots I grew were super small. Some grew bigger but most didn’t. When you have carrots, one thing you’re supposed to do is, as they grow, make sure that the carrots have enough space between them. When the carrots are too close together, they’re too crowded and there isn’t enough room to grow. But when you spread them out, thin them out, they can grow nice and big. So if we want them to grow big, we have to visit the garden, weed it, give the carrots the room they need. The carrots will grow without our help – but when we weed, tend them, and get our hands dirty in the garden – they can grow bigger and stronger.

Today, our story about Jesus is going to be a difficult one. Jesus is going to say some stuff that’s hard to understand. He’s going to talk about about a camel, a sewing needle, a rich young man, and saying something like the first will be last and the last will be first. When we first hear Jesus speak, we’re not always sure what he’s saying. And that’s okay. It’s okay if Jesus says something and it makes us feel confused. It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to say “what does this mean?” And when that happens, what we’re called to do is to not run away from what Jesus said – but listen to it again. To read more about it. To engage with it differently. We’re called to be active – to engage with Jesus’ words – knowing that it will take time to hear clearly what Jesus is telling to us. And that’s okay. Because when we’re active with our faith – when we go to Jesus – when we pray and listen to what he says over and over again – our faith, because of our questions, actually grows stronger. And we then discover just how much Jesus loves us.

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 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 10/14/2018.

Reflection: You – Actions & Faith

The book of Amos contains among the earliest sayings from a prophet recorded in the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament). Amos’ prophetic career was centered around the year 750 BCE (BC). We know very little about Amos’ life except for what’s recorded in the book itself. He was wealthy, owning substantial herds of sheep, and raised large orchards of fig trees. He lived in the town Tekoa, located a few miles south of Jerusalem. By this point, the original kingdom of David and Solomon had been split in two for centuries. The southern kingdom, centered around Jerusalem, was named Judah while the northern (and more powerful) kingdom was called Israel. At some point in Amos’ life, God compelled him to leave Judah and preach in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos wasn’t a professional prophet. He didn’t belong to the many prophetic schools and organizations that existed in ancient Israel. Instead, he was a wealthy business owner that God transformed into God’s mouthpiece. Amos’ words, while spoken in the Northern Kingdom, were directed towards anyone with wealth, power, and authority in both Israel and Judah.

As Amos sees it (Amos 5:6-7,10-15), those in comfort have lost sight of Israel’s special relationship with God. The covenant God established at Mt. Sinai (i.e. the ten commandments and the law) had been broken. The practicing of their faith had been reduced to mere performative acts. Instead of loving their neighbors and helping the power, those in power had increased the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The wealthy feel entitled to bribe judges, believing that the laws of land were something only other people had to follow. Corrupt judges were installed in the courts (in the ancient world, courtrooms were in the city gates – see 5:10) so that they could rule in favor of the powerful. Amos, in chapter 5, is pronouncing a death sentence against the people of Israel because, according to Amos, God is about to enforce the terms of the covenant. Since Israel wasn’t fulfilling their end of the bargain, God was going to respond. Yet the situation was not completely hopeless. The invitation to take God’s covenant seriously was still open. Amos’ call at the end of today’s passage is to “seek good and not evil [so] that you may live.” Even in the midst of death, resurrection can always happen.

It’s easy for us to read this passage and believe it doesn’t apply to us. We can always think of someone richer than us or that these words are meant for a so-called “elite” or “establishment” that we are not a part of it. But what if we didn’t do that? What if we let Amos’ words speak to us? As a church in Northern New Jersey, we live in one of the wealthiest areas in the world. If we own our home, know where our next meal is coming from, and have any kind of savings or wealth at all, we have a lot in common with the audience Amos was speaking to. This reading is an invitation for us to re-evaluate how our faith impacts how we live, consume, and practice any power that we have. And if our actions do not match our faith, then God is inviting us to change.

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 the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 10/14/2018.

Homily for Ruth Eastlund, Memorial Service

Hallelujah! Praise God in the holy temple; praise God in the mighty firmament.

Praise God for mighty acts; praise God for exceeding greatness.

Praise God with trumpet sound; praise God with lyre and harp.

Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with strings and pipe.

Praise God with resounding cymbals; praise God with loud clanging cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah!

Psalm 150

My sermon from the memorial service for Ruth Eastlund on October 13, 2018. Translation from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.


The book of psalms is a polyphony of song.” In our context, we usually read the psalms out loud. We try, as best we can, to speak in a meter and speed that brings life to the poetic words on the page. But these poems were meant to be sung. They’re designed to be accompanied by music. Some might have been written for entire choirs while others were meant to be sung when we’re alone and our sighs are too deep for words. These 150 separate texts were written over five centuries by authors scattered all over ancient Israel and parts of modern day Iraq. So this book contains within it a multitude of voices – yet each one transcends their historical context. A poet sitting on the banks of the Euphrates River had no idea that all of us, 2500 years later, would be reading their words today. But that’s the power of the psalms. They can, in a moment, “address different contexts simultaneously.” The songs that gave life to the ancient citizens of Jerusalem are the same ones that gave life to Ruth. She chose all the hymns, music, and readings we are sharing today. Now some of these we might know by heart. For example, Psalm 23 is the standard psalm spoken at most funerals and memorial services. Yet it’s a psalm that’s never emptied of its power or importance. Rather, it grows, evolves, and changes as we celebrate all the people who loved the Lord. The green pastures and the banks of those still waters are full of every person we’ve ever loved. And that’s why Psalm 23 is a piece of Scripture that will never grow old no matter how old we actually are.

But Psalm 150 is a psalm we usually don’t hear. And it’s probably one of only two psalms that were written for the book of Psalms itself. Psalm 1 was designed as an introduction to the entire book after the individual songs were collected, collated, and put into a final form. But that collection needed an ending. So Psalm 150 was probably written to sort-of summarize everything that came before it. Now, it’s almost impossible to summarize all 149 separate songs. Their content alone is vast and varied. Some were written to celebrate the crowning of ancient kings and queens while others are full of sea monsters and tales about the creation of the universe. The psalms also contain almost all human emotions, from the highest joys to the lowest lows. And within its pages we find incredible happiness and incredible sorrow, sometimes only a few verses apart. On one level, the book of Psalms is as vast and varied as each one of us. It’s a book designed to be a soundtrack to human life. So it’s fitting that Psalm 150 is the unique reading that Ruth chose. As she looked back at her life – at every experience that made her who she was and while thinking about every person she loved – what made the most sense to her was to just sing.

I had the privilege to get to know Ruth over these last few years. She wasn’t able to attend church as much as she used to but when she was here, it was as if her entire body and soul absorbed every word that was sung and every note that was played. I’d see her sitting in her pew, right over there, her eyes and her ears glued to the music and man she loved. Ken, over these last few years, did more than offer up his own musical gifts in the church. He also sung for her. She would mention that to me from time to time, usually in the middle of a story about the choir she grew up with in Minnesota or while bragging about how much she adored her grand and great-grand children. I know her life over these last few years wasn’t easy. And she embodied that Northern European pride that made her as tough and as stubborn as she could possibly be. But no matter what these years brought her, they couldn’t stop her song. It didn’t matter that her voice could no longer sing the way it use to because the song of her faith, her love, her family, and her joy could never be taken away. Her song was a gift from the Lord. And she knew that she was Jesus’ and Jesus was hers. We will miss her deeply. Yet she now rests with the eternal song maker, joining her voice with every angel, trumpet, lyre, and harp, as they sing together around Christ’s heavenly throne – forever and ever.


Children’s Sermon: We Are For Each Other

Bring a bunch of stuffed animals – different kinds!

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

I want to talk a little bit about the first reading from the Bible we’re going to hear today. It’s a story from the book of Genesis, the very first book of the bible. The book of Genesis gives us different stories about God’s relationship with the world and everything on it. It’s not meant to be a set of instructions about how God created everything. Instead, each part of the story tells us how much God loves us and the world around us. It’s sometimes hard to hear that part of the story because we listen to the words but don’t imagine what the story looks like. So to help us imagine this part of the story, I’ve brought some friends with me. And here they are.

Share the different animals that your brought.

So the story begins with God seeing one person who is all alone. And God doesn’t like that. God knows that we need each other to live and love and be everything God wants us to be. So God decides to make a helper for that person. Now, a helper is more than just a person who helps. In the Old Testament, God is often described as a “helper.” So God wants to create for this person a partner who will help live and thrive and have everything they need. So God gets to work. And the story goes that God started to create all these different kinds of animals to see if they could be a good partner for the person. So God created a fish…and said “is this a good partner for you?” And, well, fishes are great – but there’s a lot they can do. So then God created a horse. Which was awesome but it’s hard to talk to horses or listen to them or even to get a horse to pray for us. So that didn’t work. Go through all the different animals. Then wrap up.

So God created all these animals and couldn’t find one that was the perfect partner for the person. And then God had the idea that we need each other so God, using the first person as a template/a model – God creates another person. And now, in the story, there’s two people who can care for each other, feed each other, help each other, pray for each other, love and serve each other.

God knows that we need each other to be who God wants us to be. That means all of us, regardless of how old we are, or where we’re from, or what gender we are, or whatnot – all of us are here to take care of each other. Everyone out there in the pews is called to help you and pray for you. And everyone up here is called to help and pray for everyone out there. We are designed by God to rely on each other. And one of the most important ways we can do that is by keeping each other in our prayers every day.

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 20th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/07/2018.

But Jesus Said: Jesus and Divorce

[Jesus] left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:1-16

My sermon from the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 7, 2018) on Mark 10:1-16. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


Start with a pause.

So in the space between when I finished today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark to when I first started speaking, what sermon appeared in your head?

I was reminded this week that there are stories from the Bible that speak to us before the pastor says a word. These stories tend to connect with us on a very personal level. They tug at our heart and our soul, reminding us of personal experiences we’ve had, struggles we’ve overcome, and point to the current shadows that fill our lives. Jesus’ words about divorce is one of those stories. All I had to do was say that word and memories of fear, pain, and sadness bubble up. We might remember sermons in the past that hurt because they used Jesus’ words to condemn us while we went through our divorce. Or we might hold onto a part of what Jesus said and find ourselves struggling to connect or fully empathize with those who have gone through their own separation. Some might hear Jesus’ celebration of the institution of marriage and feel personally attacked because they are single or alone or know they’ll never be married. The wider church has used this passage from Mark to define what our lives through marriage should look like. And if our life doesn’t match up, we’re punished for not being a member of a so-called “biblical” relationship. Now, we know that relationships are not always simple or easy. Our bonds with each other are formed by imperfect people and those connections will never fully match with our “happily-ever-after” expectations. Being married is a calling that not everyone will share. And sometimes ending an unhealthy marriage is the right and Christian and loving thing to do. We know this because we have people in our lives who are incredibly faithful and who are also single or married or divorced or everything else in between. Jesus’ love for us does not depend on our marital status. Instead, Jesus is always with us, whether we’re single, partnered, living together, separated, married, divorced, widowed, re-married, or re-divorced. That’s a promise Jesus gives us in our baptism and our marital status does not change that. So how can we rewrite the sermon that’s already in our head so that we cling to Jesus rather than to the word “divorce?” Well, one way we can do that is by starting at verse 13 with the word “people.”

Now I’ll admit that sometimes the formatting of our Bible trips me up. And for a long time, I saw verse 13 as the start of a separate story. The word “people” seems to mark the beginning of a new scene where families are bringing little children to Jesus so that he might touch them. That touching sounds a little weird but it’s Mark’s way of telling us that these children probably needed healing. So people wanted Jesus to heal their child by gently laying his hands on them. Jesus’ disciples, once again, were not happy that little children were in the room. The children were sick, loud, and annoying everyone who wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. But Jesus, as was his custom, said, “let the little children come.” For the third week in a row, our story from the gospel of Mark has children in it. Children in the ancient world were near the bottom of their society’s social ladder. They were prone to getting sick, were extremely vulnerable, and they needed to be taken care of. Children were loved by their families but the wider society was waiting for them to grow up. But Jesus, like we heard last week and the week before, welcomed them, saying that the ones who are vulnerable, the ones who are weak, and the one who have no authority in their community – they are the ones who are already part of God’s holy family. The little children in that room weren’t supposed to be in Jesus’ presence in the first place. Yet Jesus invited them in because God’s kingdom already included them. It wasn’t the super religious, the super powerful, or the super successful who earned or were entitled to a place in God’s kingdom. Rather, it’s those who find themselves in need, those who are suffering, those who are in pain, and those who have found their lives torn apart – that’s who Jesus goes to. And Jesus promises them that He will never let them go.

The word “people” seems like it starts a new story that’s all good news. But that word and it’s paragraph indention wasn’t supposed to start something new. Rather, in the ancient greek text that our translation is based on, the word “people” is really just “they.” Now that “they” could point to the crowd or the Pharisees or the disciples or whoever else was in that house. But I think that “they” also included those Jesus named in verses 11 and 12. The families bringing children to Jesus included not only married couples but also remarried couples, divorced men, and divorced single women. Now, those divorced women and their children would be in an extremely vulnerable position because, in general, it was the men who had access to wealth, power, and resources. That patriarchy was so ingrained in the culture that it was really only men who could initiative any kind of separation in Jesus’ day. A man could, through divorce, pretend as if their marriage never happened. But the woman didn’t have that option. She would be viewed as almost expendable, without a job or money or any kind of resources to support their children. Yet it’s the ones who had their world torn apart that Jesus welcomes and includes. Because, according to Jesus, the ones who suffer, who are in pain, who were tossed aside and left completely vulnerable – they are the ones for whom the whole kingdom of God belongs.

We do a disservice to ourselves, our church, and our faith when we read Jesus’ words about divorce and we forget “they” who brought their children. This story isn’t meant to be split in two. Rather, we’re supposed to read Jesus’ words about divorce and to use his actions with the children as our guide. As human beings, we are connected to everyone else, and we’re called to welcome, serve, and care for each other. No one is meant to be dismissed, pushed aside, or left vulnerable. No one is meant to be unheard or unseen. Our relationships with each other are supposed to support, guide, and help us be the followers of Jesus – God is calling us to be. But when our most intimate relationships end for the well-being of ourselves, our partners, and our families – then the church God has surrounded us with is called to support, hold, and love those in need. Jesus knew that we needed each other because it takes a community to repair what life has torn a part. It takes a church to help us mourn the end of one relationship while we’re being resurrected into something new. That’s why, in our baptism, we are given more than a personal relationship with Jesus. We’re given a whole body, a whole community filled with people who are called to love each other just like Jesus loves us. Regardless of our marital status, our age, or our gender, we are meant to be for each other. And in the words of Rev. David Lose, “when we recognize our own dependence and vulnerability and see ourselves in those who suffer,” it’s then when we “can …imagine … – and thereby receive – the reign and presence of God.



Reflection: Helper

Our first reading today (Genesis 2:18-24) has been used for centuries to place women into subservient positions. The words man, woman, helper, and partner reinforce culturally defined expectations of what relationships and marriages should be. The word helper can be used in a diminutive way, reducing the “helper” to someone less than the person being helped. A partner, in our language, can sometimes make this person less than the person they’re partnering with. Part of this problem comes from our frame of reference. If we keep the “man” at the center of the action, we make the entire story revolve around him. But if we take a step back and place God at the center of this text, than the interpretation we commonly use to reinforce our culturally constructed gender roles begins to unravel.

This text is part of the second story of creation in our Bible. The first story (which also includes the creation of human beings – Genesis 1:26-29) involved God creating the universe and saying that many things are “good.” Today’s text is the first time when God noticed something “not good.” The “man” was alone and God viewed their loneliness as “not good.” The word “man” is a poor translation, and we should replace “man” in Genesis 2:18-22 with “human being” because the spectrum of gender hadn’t been created yet. The “human being” represents everything that a person could be. And God doesn’t like that this person was alone. God wanted people to have life-giving relationships so God invented every kind of animal, trying to give the human a compatible companion. The companion for the human should be a partner (like a co- equal partner in a law firm) and a helper. God doesn’t see helpers as something negative. Rather, the Bible calls God a “helper” over and over again (ex. Psalm 115). God wanted the human being to have a companion as life-giving to them as God is. But after failing to create an animal or bird that would work, God used the human as a template to create their life-giving companion. And since this new companion is from the human, the human (who is changed and is now Adam), is called to be a helper too. God values the relationships we create with each other and those relationships, when they give us life, are good.

Much of the commentary on this text focuses on the nouns (helper, partner, woman, man, etc.). We usually don’t spend enough time looking at verse 23 which, according to the second story of creation, was the first recorded words Adam (the man) spoke: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This phrase is rooted in joy because they discovered who, along with God, will help them become who God is calling them to be. In this joy-filled moment, they stand before each other as they truly are. They are naked. They are vulnerable. They are unpretentious and full of possibilities. They are as God made them to be: people who can love each other because they are loved.

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 the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/07/2018.

Reflection: Our Words Do Something

There’s a word I read this week that I found helpful while reading this text from James 5:13-20 today. That word is “speech-acts.” We know our words have power. We use them to bless and curse. The same voices that lavish praise on Jesus also swear at the person who cuts them off on the New Jersey turnpike. The words we use are more than just words. Words create actions. They make people feel joy and pain. With words, we can inspire people to great acts of beauty. And with words, we can destroy souls. Words are powerful, living things. And James, as we saw in chapter 3, knows the problems words can cause.

But James also knows who we are. We are followers of Jesus. As he wrote in 1:17-18, “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” We are God’s creatures which means we have new words to speak. Our words, like God’s love, is rooted in generosity. Our words are meant to tend and serve each other. The words we speak should create new kinds of actions that bring love, gentleness, and hope to the people around us. Our words are powerful because the Word, Jesus himself, is the center of everything we say and do.

So what should our speech-acts look like? Rev. Robert Hoch writes, “If someone is suffering, let them pray. If someone is happy, let them sing songs of praise. If someone is sick, ask the elders to come and anoint them with oil and pray for their healing. Confess your sins to one another. Be reconciled. Be renewed. Be whole. Learn from people like Elijah, who was just like us, and whose prayers were powerful and effective amid natural and political droughts. Restore one another to the community forged in God’s image.” Our words should shape our actions to clearly resemble exactly who we know Jesus Christ to be.

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 the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, 9/30/2018.