What to Keep? From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, April 2017 Edition

I feel like I’ve been “spring cleaning” for months now. In mid-February, when the temperature warmed up, I felt the urge to tidy up. I started looking at my clothes differently. I wondered if I really needed all these books on my bookshelf. I stared at the toys scattered in every room in my house and wondered if my kids would notice if they were gone. When the cold of winter breaks, throwing things out is what I want to do.

But what if spring cleaning was more about what we kept rather than what we threw away? Instead of focusing on the clutter, we spend time looking at what we have. The shirt we love ‘tis worth more than the trendy shirt we never wore. The chalkboard that lets kids imagine new worlds is more important than the unplayed matchbox cars surrounding it. When we focus on what to keep, our perspective changes. We stop grabbing everything we can because each item we buy is invited into an environment where it will be used, cherished and appreciated. The world we live in becomes a little more intentional because keeping things is a very intentional act.
That first Easter morning was a very intentional act. When Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, he was being thrown away. The Roman Empire didn’t know what to do with this rabble rousing rabbi from the backwaters of Galilee so they removed him from the scene. When he was placed in the tomb, his story was supposed to be sealed up for good. But Jesus’ story wasn’t over. The next morning, women came to the tomb to finish the rituals of burying their beloved teacher. They found Jesus’ tomb empty because the Resurrection means nothing, not even death, can keep Jesus away from us.

This Easter, I invite you to think about what you keep in your life. Bring what you don’t keep to church as we prepare for our annual Trash & Treasure Sale. And then celebrate the relationship you have with a God who promises always to keep you.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

Get Me a Drink: a sermon on sharing even when you don’t know the full story.

[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labour.’

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’

John 4:5-42

My sermon from the Second Sunday in Lent (March 19, 2017) on John 4:5-41.

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Telling Our Story: A Reflection on What We Keep

The First Reading is Exodus 17:1-7.

Our Mid-Week Lenten Soup & Study this year is combining decluttering with Luther’s Small Catechism. Both movements, I think, asks us to change how we view our stuff and our faith. Decluttering isn’t about throwing things away; decluttering is about what we keep. Luther’s faith is centered on keeping close to a God who keeps us close. Our journey of faith isn’t helping us approach God. Faith is helping us see the God who is already with us.

One way we see God is by telling the stories of the people we grew up with. We share stories about our parents, grandparents, and distant ancestors (if we know them). When we talk to someone who doesn’t know us very well, we might focus on the positive stories first. We talk about challenges that were overcome and all the good things that happened. We wait to share the negative things (violence, anger, frustration, broken relationship) until later.

But our story from Exodus 17 doesn’t do that. The Israelites are rescued from slavery by God. They go into the wilderness to escape Pharaoh and his army. They overcome exciting challenges. They are doing a new thing. We expect to hear stories showing how they survived and thrived. But should we also hear their complaining? Why does scripture share their screw ups? The stories we tell (or share on facebook, instagram, and snapchat) are stories where we try to look our best. We usually do not share our negative stories. But God’s story includes people who complain, people who are thirsty, and people who wonder what God has done for us lately. When we are at our most broken and even we wouldn’t stay near us, God still holds us close. God doesn’t ask us to only share perfect stories. We are called to share every story because God is with us, even then.

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 1st Sunday in Lent, 3/19/2017.

Letter to the Emerson School Board

March 6, 2017

School Board of Emerson
Emerson Board of Education Office
133 Main Street
Emerson NJ, 07630

Dear Emerson School Board Members,

I am a parent of two young sons. My oldest will shortly begin his journey through Emerson schools. One month ago, I was in the gym at Memorial, signing him up for Kindergarten. When my family and I were looking for a home in Northern New Jersey, having access to a high quality education was important to us. We are excited to be living in Emerson and participating in Emerson’s schools.

I am writing to voice my support for the district policy (5756) regarding transgender students adopted by Emerson in June 2016. As a person of faith, I believe everyone is made in God’s image. People of faith are called to support all students, regardless of gender, race, class, social background, and sexual orientation. We have a vested interest in providing the best education to all students. A student cannot utilize the amazing educational opportunities available to them if they are not embraced for who they are.

I look forward to my children growing up in a school district that proactively affirms and supports transgender students. I want my kids to grow up in an environment where diversity is welcomed. A diverse school environment might make them uncomfortable when they encounter new ideas, experiences, and people. But a welcoming and inclusive school district will help turn discomfort into curiosity, conversations, and new friendships.

In light of the recent changes to the guidance about transgender students provided by the US Board of Education, I invite the Emerson Board of Education to continue its current policy. By supporting transgender students, the Emerson Board of Education supports all students.

Sincerely,

I wrote this letter in support of students. If you agree with this movement in civil rights, celebrate school districts who get it.

A lifetime: 70 is a symbol and here’s one of its meanings.

The First Reading is Genesis 12:1-4.

The second part of Genesis 12:4 reads “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” He’s 75 when he leaves his adopted home.

Abram originally grew up in modern day Iraq. When he young, his father Terah headed west to the city of Haran. Terah was planning to continue to Canan but he never made it. Terah build a home in Haran. When he died, Abram inherited the household. Abram has a home in Haran when God tells him to leave.

The number 75 represents more than just a year in Abram’s life. 75 represents his entire life. When 70 (or 75) years shows up in scripture, we’re seeing a number that represents a lifetime. Scripture uses this number to point to everything this character would have experienced in a life. We are not supposed to be shocked that Abram, at the age of 75, could move to a new country. What is shocking is God telling Abram to give up his life so he can start something new.

I imagine Abram saw Haran as his home. His household, wealth, and workers (slaves and servants) dwelled there. Over the years, he formed deep relationships with the other citizens of Haran. I imagine he knew every shortcut in the city and where to watch the sunrise over the hills. Even though he grew up in ancient Iraq, Abram was a citizen of Haran. By the time he was 75 years old, he was an old timer. He was a mature resident. He was a pillar of the local community. And that’s the moment when God tells Abram to become a stranger.

When Abram leaves Haran, he becomes an alien in the land of Canan. He is a foreigner, without papers, in a land he’s never known. His old life in Haran is behind him. A new life is before him. God has called Abram to be a stranger in a strange land. And that’s what a faithfilled life can look like. This life of faith isn’t always a life of comfort and predictably. Faith sometimes means we will live in strange places with strange people. Yet these journeys will never be journeys without God. Abram goes to Canan because God is with him. We go to wherever God brings us because God is with us 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 1st Sunday in Lent, 3/12/2017.

Veribage: a sermon on letting Jesus be Jesus.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:1-17

My sermon from the Second Sunday in Lent (March 12, 2017) on John 3:1-17.

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Famished: A sermon on Jesus’ temptations and standing with the JCC.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Matthew 4:1-11

My sermon from the First Sunday in Lent (March 5, 2017) on Matthew 4:1-11.

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The Garden of Eden and Totality

The First Reading is Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7.

We don’t know why God plants trees in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve cannot eat. When I visualize the story in my head, I put these trees in the very center of Eden. No matter where they are, they know these trees are there. One of the trees is a tree of immortality. Whoever eats its fruits will become divine. The other tree is the tree we hear about today. It’s a tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

To me, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a merism. A merism is a figure of speech where polar opposites are used to denote a totality (The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford 2004, page 16). Merisms show up many times in the bible. In the very first verse, God creates the heaven and the earth (i.e. everything). In the second creation story, the first human being is created and then split into male and female. The first human contained the totality of what’s possible in humankind. Merisms show up in other places too. When we find polar opposites in Scripture, we need to look for what’s totally represented. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents what everything that can be known. This knowledge contains what we usually call knowledge: science, math, poetry, and language. But knowledge also contains experiences. To be knowledgeable, we need experiences. We need to know how to survive through a broken heat. We need to know what happens when we break someone else’s. We will struggle, feel joy, and sometimes need to take each day just one-at-a-time to survive. Knowledge is more than just learning; knowledge is living.

The totality of knowledge is what God has. And this is what Adam and Eve desire. They see the tree and the possibility for joys. They see the tree and the possibility to be like God. As Lutheran Christians, when we talk about Sin, we mean more than just immoral acts. For us, Sin is our desire to be like God. We want knowledge; we want power; we want control. We want to be God. And this is why Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden. But they aren’t sent out alone. God will replace the loincloths they made for themselves with something better. Even when we try to take God’s place, God never stops being generous to us.

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 1st Sunday in Lent, 3/5/2017.

#IStandWithTheJCC Rally

On Friday, March 3, I might have been the only Christian clergy (I didn’t see other collars) at a rally against Anti-Semitism. Over 100 bomb threats against JCCs and Jewish Day schools have occurred in the last few months. At least two Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated. Nazi symbols are being spray painted and carved on church doors. The rally yesterday took place at the JCC on the Palisades and was publicized the evening before. I’m glad I was able to show up and be present. There’s much more to do.