From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, September 2016 Edition

As I write this, our Genesis Garden team is trying to catch a groundhog. In the garden, by the shed, is a humane trap, with apples and broccoli for bait. Each morning, the trap is checked and the food replenished. The team is committed to capturing this groundhog who dug into our garden from the other side of the building. But this groundhog is proving elusive. It must have learned something by watching the other 3 we caught this season. 

Our Genesis Garden and our volunteers do amazing work. They use the gifts we are given (our land and time) to provide fresh vegetables to the Center for Food Action in Englewood. Too many people in Northern New Jersey struggle with food insecurity so we use what we have to make a difference in the lives of people we might never meet. This is Godly work – work that even those of us without green thumbs (i.e. me) can participate in. Planting, weeding, watering, and picking; together, we can do so much to love the world. 

But sometimes our plans and expectations run into reality. We can lock up our gardens, mend our fences, build our walls tight, but a groundhog will still find a way in. It’s frustrating and disappointing to see our best intentions fall short even when we did nothing wrong. We might feel, after 3 groundhogs, to just give up. But we don’t because Christ doesn’t give up on us. 

We’re starting up a new programming year. Our choirs, Sunday School, education programs, and more are all restarting. Our lives are going to get busy with sports, schools, holidays, jobs, and family events. We’re going to run into the groundhogs of our lives or be someone’s groundhog too. But we don’t stop turning to God, listening to the Spirit, and holding close to Jesus. In Christ, groundhogs are not the final word for our lives; love is. So let’s keep loving, feeding, and caring for ourselves and the world, no matter how many groundhogs come. 

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

A Reflection on Lamentations

Our First Reading is Lamentations 1:1-5.

What does mourning sound like? That’s not an easy question to answer. Each time a person experiences loss, we respond to that loss in a unique way. Some of us shed tears while others focus on their jobs or hobbies. Some of us spend much of our days in sadness while others will be surprised when moments of sadness show up suddenly an unexpectedly. We each mourn in our own way and that’s okay. The book of Lamentations is a book of mourning centered on the fall of Jerusalem.

This book is a collection of 5 poems, each 22 lines long. The writer (traditionally identified as Jeremiah) believes that God used the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. The writers knows that God can work “good and bad.” But the writer is surprised at one aspect of God: God’s silence. When God’s Temple, God’s Home, was under siege, why was God silent? The writer of Lamentations cries out for the pain to stop and for their suffering to end. The poem ends without an answer on whether God will do that or not.

“To us, lament often sounds like despair, the opposite of faith” (Lutheran Study Bible, 2009) but cries are not the opposite of faith. Crying out to God is a prayer. The very act itself trusts that we will be heard. And we will be heard because it is in the places where we would least expect God (in suffering, pain, catastrophe, and in the cross) where God is clearly present. “Lamentations shows us that in the most difficult of times and places, God is present and hears our desperate cries for help.”

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 8/28/2016.

Let’s Hear It For Love: a sermon on Jesus, love, and being vulnerable.

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14:1,7-14

My sermon from the 15th Sunday After Pentecost (August 28, 2016) on Luke 14:1,7-14.

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Keep Saying: a sermon on Jesus, the Sabbath, and what matters.

Now[Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

My sermon from the 14th Sunday After Pentecost (August 21, 2016) on Luke 13:10-17.

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A Reflection on Jeremiah 32

Our First Reading is Jeremiah Jeremiah 32:1-2,6-15.

Jerusalem is under siege. The armies of Babylon have surrounded the city. The prophet Jeremiah is imprisoned by the King of Judah because Jeremiah keeps saying “Jerusalem is going to fall.” The king questions Jeremiah, and he responds with the story in our reading today. Jeremiah’s cousin needs to sell a piece of property. He comes to Jeremiah with an offer. Jeremiah, as a member of this extended family, has the opportunity to buy the land first. If he buys it, the land stays within the family. Jeremiah buys the property, and he goes into detail on how he legally makes the sale happen. The deeds are stored in a jar so that it will last a long time. In the middle of a war, with Babylon storming the gates, Jeremiah buys a piece of land. The Kingdom of Judah and all its laws about property rights are about to fall, yet Jeremiah buys a piece of land. Judah’s way of life is over and, yet, Jeremiah buys a piece of land. The future looks bleak but Jeremiah doesn’t let fear rule him. He knows the kingdom will fall but he trusts God’s promises more.

Jeremiah is not a beloved prophet. The kings of Judah do not like this man of God who says that the Kingdom is going to fall. But every promise of destruction is met by the promise of God’s future. Babylon might destroy God’s temple but they cannot destroy God’s promises to God’s people. The inhabitants will be sent into wile but God’s relationship with them will not end. God will go into Exile with the people. God will be with them, no matter what. And, as the wheels of time move and the world changes and grows, God will rework God’s people to bring them into a future where injustice, pain and tears are no more. And that’s why Jeremiah buys a piece of land. He’s doubling down on God’s promise even if he doesn’t see the promise fulfilled in his lifetime.

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 8/21/2016.

Division: a sermon on the Olympics, expectations, and Jesus.

[Jesus said:] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Luke 12:49-56

My sermon from the 13th Sunday After Pentecost (August 14, 2016) on Luke 12:49-56.

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A Reflection on Jeremiah

Our First Reading is Jeremiah 1:4-10.

There are very few “kind” passages from the book of Jeremiah which is full of the words attributed to that prophet. He was only a “boy” when God called him to be a prophet, around the year 626 BCE (BC). This was a very chaotic time for the kingdom of Judah. War was everywhere. Political powers such as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon battled for supremacy, installing puppet kings in Judah and throughout the area. By the year 605, Babylon defeated Egypt and Assyria in battle. Babylon was left as the supreme military and political authority in the Near East. In 597 BC, the first exile of leaders from Jerusalem took place. That was followed by a much larger exile 10 years later after Jerusalem rebelled against Babylonian authority. Jeremiah died the following year.

In such a violent and vicious time, it would be surprising to find may words of comfort from God’s prophet. However, even in the first chapter, the ground for hope is laid. God comes to a little boy, appointing him as a prophet for Jerusalem and all the nations of the world. We tend to romanticize our view of children, viewing them as special, precious, and innocent. And they are. But in Jeremiah’s time, childhood wasn’t romanticized. Children had few legal rights, many died before the age of five, and they worked in the field as soon as they were able. Children were powerless and it’s a child that God calls to bring God’s word to kings. God promises to give Jeremiah the words he needs. Jeremiah will preach a word to all those in power and authority, showing them their shortcomings and bringing God’s call for justice. God’s word will pull injustice down and, in the same instant, plant the seeds for reconciliation, love, and hope.

By the end of Jeremiah’s life, his messages of doom were matched by his messages of hope. He would never live to see the restoration of Jerusalem but he would proclaim that God does not give up on God’s people. God will come to all of us, in many different ways, to form us into the people God wants us to be. God’s desire is for the end of fear, injustice, and hopelessness. That what’s God begins in us through our relationship with Jesus Christ. And what God begins in us, we are called to do in all that we say and 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 8/14/2016.

A Short Wedding Homily

I presided over a wedding on August 7 at a small restaurant. The marriage was a second marriage for each with the bride and groom having adult children. The reading I picked was Song of Songs 2:10-13:

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

So J. and S., I wanted to share a shot word on this special day. When you came earlier this week to talk to me about today, what stood how was just how grounded you two are as a couple. And I found that remarkable because, the more we talked, the more I realized you two don’t stay grounded very long. You’re always on the move, traveling, flying, visiting at 45 countries so far with several more already in your sight for the future. And one thing I love is that when you visit some place new, you both keep moving. You both love to experience new sights and places – and you experience those new things in a similar way. Where others might enjoy a leisurely lunch, savoring the cuisine and atmosphere of some small country cafe, you don’t sit. You keep going. You know your limitations and your strengths, your passions and what gives you life. You both have a strong sense of who you are – and that strength lets you visit and experience so many new things. My belief is that both of you discovered in each other a kindred spirit. It’s not something you planned. It’s not something you expected. But the journey of each of your lives made sure that you two would find each other. And we’re here to honor, celebrate, and pray for this next step of your journey together. We might not know which country you’ll explore next or which foreign capital you’ll send your next postcard from, but we do know that you are traveling with the best possible person for you.

Invocation and Benediction for an Eagle Court of Honor

I participated in an Eagle Scout Court of Honor on August 6, 2016. 2 young men were honored. After digging around the internet, I compiled the following prayers for the ceremony. I stole much of this but I forget where – though the Benediction comes mostly from the Unitarian Universalist church.

Invocation
God, we thank you for the opportunity to come together as family, friends, leaders and fellow scouts on this significant day in the life of <_____> and <_____>. Today is a celebration of a journey, a journey full of challenges, friendship, struggles, and, occasionally, a little fun. Today, we think of all the Merit Badges earned along the way, the oaths committed to, the character these young men developed, and the service to our community these two worked so hard to bring about. Little by little, month by month and year by year, they were faithful and we celebrate their faith, commitment, and hard work.

So we ask for your blessing on <_____> and <_____>, their families who supported and encouraged them, and their fellow scouts who helped them along the way. Bless the scout leaders, Troop #, and all those who are here physically or in Spirit. Continue to walk with <_____> and <_____> as they take these next steps in becoming the scouts and the people you desire them to be.

Amen.

Benediction
Dear God,

An Eagle Scout Court of Honor marks the end of one journey, and the commitment to another: a commitment to better Scouting where all may participate, a commitment to better citizenship, and a commitment to be an example of leadership to all.

Bless all of <_____> and <_____> future endeavors. Walk with them wherever their lives take them and give them your strength, your compassion, your wisdom, and your love.

And may all of us gathered here be committed to Scouting’s ideals which instruct us to lead better lives. May we, like <_____> and <_____>, always follow our own trails, discovering who we are by striving into the unknown;

May God be with us all, until we meet again.

Amen.