Your Day and Night and Day Job: Jesus, Hand Washing, and Changing Traditions.

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23

My sermon from the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 2, 2018) on Mark 7:108,14-15,21-23. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


One of my favorite questions that’s appears on the internet is: can I eat this? Now, the question isn’t from someone wondering if this herb or plant or insect is edible. No, this question shows up when someone wonders if a food is still safe to eat. For example, someone asked if they could eat a tuna fish sandwich they packed for lunch but accidentally left on the kitchen counter all day long. Another person wondered if chicken broth that says it’s good 7-10 days after opening would still be good after 12. And someone else, after accidentally sending fresh green grapes through the wash cycle of their washing machine, posed a question to the entire internet asking if they could still eat them? From the folks finding a potato with a black part in the middle to the people who left tofu in their hot car for far too long – there’s people, everywhere, wondering if they can eat that.

Now we know, from personal experience, that the question they’re asking is a good one. Any food that is undercooked, poorly prepared, or left out in the sun too long will end up becoming something we can’t eat. There’s a lot of food that, when it goes into our mouth, leaves us feeling defiled. The cleanliness of our food, our dishes, and even our hands protects us and our families from food poisoning and illness. Our well-being depends on making sure that whatever we put in our mouth is safe and clean.

Which is why this passage from the gospel according to Mark might make us feel a bit queasy. At first glance, we assume we know what Jesus is talking about because, for generations, we’ve made the Pharisees into the “bad guys.” We imagine they were a group of people who took scripture and turned it into a list of rules that helped them earn God’s love. Since this passage starts with the Pharisees asking a question, we already know they’re wrong so we ignore what they say, skip to verse 15, and tell each other to work on our moral character so that we make Godly choices. But scripture has a habit of inviting us to re-evaluate what we think we already know. And when we stop and listen to the Pharisees’ question – about washing your hands before you eat – we’re left feeling a little askew because that question is completely reasonable. We know, through the God-given gifts of science and medicine, that washing your hands regularly, especially at meal times, is a good thing. It stops the spread of germs and makes sure that the dirt from the day doesn’t end up inside our mouths. As 21st century Americans living in an affluent part of Northern New Jersey where the use of antibacterial gels is so widespread that brand names like Purell are verbs instead of nouns – we’re unsettled by today’s gospel text because the Pharisees’ question is perfectly sensible. And based on the words the Pharisees’ used to frame their question, we know that some of Jesus’ disciples washed their hands just like the Pharisees did. That uneasy feeling we have isn’t because we’re wondering if the yogurt we left out will still be good when we get home later today. Instead, we’re queasy because the people we’re not supposed to like actually made a really good point.

So let’s accept the fact that the Pharisees asked a good question. They had a tradition of washing their hands before they eat and some of Jesus’ disciples did the same. The Pharisees, however, did not wash their hands for hygienic reasons, nor did they think that washing would somehow earn themselves God’s love and blessing. They washed because they took God’s Word seriously. They read their bible and knew that the priests in the Temple washed as a way to keep parts of their lives sacred and holy. The commands to wash are contained in the Torah, in the first five books of the bible, and is part of what’s called God’s law. The law, for the Pharisees, wasn’t a to-do list to earn God’s love. Instead, the law was a gift from God that helped them live a different way. The Pharisees wanted the law to make a difference in every part of their lives so they expanded its application, moving the priestly washing into their everyday lives. This expansion was a tradition created by the Pharisees to protect and nurture their faith, identity, and connection to God. By taking all of God’s gifts seriously, the traditions of the Pharisees were created to show all people that God is active in their lives and in their world. Hand washing made every meal, for every person, sacred; a visible sign that God cared for every part of our lives.

It’s these kinds of traditions that help us seek, discover, and live with the God who is always with us. We create them because they give us life and we pass them on to the ones who come after us because we want them to have that life too. We might, for example, choose to read devotions in the morning and to say our prayers at night. We celebrate certain organ based hymns and guitar heavy songs, letting artists and styles of music define what our church sounds like. We clap, sway, and put our hands in the air while shouting “amen!” Or we stay as silent as a mouse, letting God’s words fill the air around us. Church happens in specific places and in specific ways through the traditions we create and share. When we do church, we are deeply rooted in our traditions. And it’s these traditions that help us be faithful because they make us faith-filled.

But these traditions are just that: they’re traditions. Human beings, with the help of the Holy Spirit, created them as ways to grow our faith and help us see God. Without our traditions, we wouldn’t be who we are. But if we cling to these traditions too tightly, we end up forgetting why those traditions existed in the first place. They exist so that we can be God’s people in the world; so that we can love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and love our neighbors as ourselves. When our traditions wall us in, cutting us off from the world and the people around us, then our traditions are getting in the way of us being the church. Part of following Jesus means we need to be a community that invites self reflection, asking out loud if how we do things is truly the way God wants us to be in the world. There are parts of our tradition that God wants us to keep doing and sharing. But if we’re honest, there are other bits and pieces that God might be inviting us to let go because they way we’ve always done things is now getting in the way of what Jesus is doing next. I’ll admit that looking at traditions in this way is pretty scary. It’s hard to let go of something that gave us so much life. But even in the moments when it feels as if we’re losing who we are, we are invited to remember that what fed our traditions is still feeding us now. Jesus, is here, right now, giving us courage and peace as we struggle through change and transition. We might not know where Jesus is taking us and we might not know, at first, what new traditions we’ll need to be the people God wants us to be. But when we follow Jesus, holding tight to the center of his life and to his Cross, everything we do will be grounded in a love that opens up all sorts of possibilities. Because Jesus will never give us anything we can’t fully eat, swallow, and digest as we grow into that new thing he is making us into.



Children’s Sermon: We Can All Do One Little Thing

Bring a giant Shriver’s balloon and some salt taffy.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So I brought something with me today that is ridiculous. It’s…this! Share the giant balloon that is an eight foot tall salt water taffy. Let’s see how big this is. Compare it to the kids. Show how tall it is. Try not to knock over anything on the altar.

This is…gigantic. And it’s from a candy store in Ocean City New Jersey. Every night during the summer at 8 pm, the store gives out these giant balloons to kids. Kids line up to get them and then spend the rest of the night walking down the boardwalk carrying these HUUGGEEE balloons. It’s fun to see all the kids carrying them, playing with them, and celebrating these giant balloons.

Why do you think this candy company, Shriver’s, gives out these balloons? Accept answers.

I think they give them out for a few reasons. One, because they’re so big, they’re easy to see and they advertise the company. They hope people will see them and come to their store and buy their products. I also think they give them out because they like seeing the joy kids and adults have when they see something so big, so large, and so ridiculous. And they also, I think, represent something we might like to have – a giant piece of candy that’s bigger than us, that we can safely eat, and since this is pretend – we also pretend that we can eat this whole thing in one sitting, and not ruin our teeth, our appetite, our gain too much weight. These ridiculous giant taffy’s invite us to imagine a different kind of world where something ridiculous and fun brings us – and so many kids and adults – joy and fun.

Now, is it easy to carry this balloon around? No. Try it! Imagine trying to carry this around…all the time. It’s hard! You can’t get into the car easily. You can’t get into church easily. And if you carried this back to your pews, it wouldn’t fit very well with you. It feels impossible to have this in our life – because even though it’s fun – it doesn’t feel very practical.

In one of our readings today, from the book attributed to a guy named James, we’re going to start hearing some teachings that sound like they make sense and are good to do – but are sometimes not going to feel practical. We’re going to hear that we should always listen, not to speak until we listen first, and not get too angry too fast. We’re going to be invited to care for widows and orphans – which is God’s way of telling us to notice the people who are hurting, who don’t have much, and who we might not always see and that we should take care of them. James is going to invite us to imagine the world as a place where all people are fed, taken care of, and can become the people God wants them to be. And that’s going to sound great – and holy – and amazing – but…might not seem practical. God’s vision of the world is going to seem like this…giant balloon – fun, amazing, something to hope for, but not practical. Because how can we do all the things God asks us to do? It seems impossible to take care of all people, to listen to everyone, and to just…always love, no matter what. It seems like we sometimes can’t do that.

But James knows something that we sometimes forget. That, since we are Christians, and since we are baptized, and since Jesus is with us all the time – we get to do different and amazing and sometimes ridiculous things. It might seem impossible to take care of everyone – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And we do that by trying to do one thing: to be kind when we don’t want to; to listen to others when we first feel like we want to talk first; to notice the people who don’t have what we have and try to help them; to do one small thing. Because we can all do one small thing to love God, love our family, love our friends, and love our neights. And that one thing, (show the real salt water taffy that you have) while it feels small, can be just as sweet. Pass out salt water taffy to the kids that can have it.

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 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 9/2/2018.

Reflection: James and What We Get to Do

Martin Luther was not a fan of the book of James (today’s reading is James 1:17-27). For him, the entire book was too focused on what people do rather than on what God has done for us. The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is how God has already done the hard work needed to make us faithful and faith-filled. The gifts of faith and grace are given to us through the Jesus who lived, died and rose for us. The gospel isn’t a list of things we have to do to get God to love and help us. Instead, the gospel is about what Jesus has already done and how Jesus changes everything. Since God has already done the work to keep us close to God, there’s nothing we have to do. There’s no trick to get God to love us more than God already does. The Christian life isn’t about what we have to do. Instead, it’s about what we get to do. And the book of James is part of the conversation trying to figure out what the Christian life looks like.

As we read through James, keep 1:17-18 in your mind. These verses are full of vivid metaphors describing who we, as baptized Christians, truly are. God’s gifts, such as faith, grace, mercy, and the specific spiritual gifts we looked at during these past seven weeks, are good. These gifts are made real when we gather together in community and these gifts are meant to be known to all. God is our “Father of lights” who, through baptism, gives birth (as a mother) to a new you. Since we are new, we need to look at ourselves in a new way. Instead of looking into a mirror and assuming everything we see is what’s holy and true, we’re invited to always return to scripture, prayer, and our faith community. These tools help us discover who we are meant to be.

Throughout James, we’ll see behaviors that are called proper and others that are not. We might even see James tell us to “not” do something. But instead of turning James into a book of rules, we’re invited to see James as a book of what we get to do. You get to live as a new you through this Christian community that loves and serves each other and the world. Knowing what this new you looks like is hard and even James will not be able to explain what the Christian life totally looks like. But James will, over and over again, return to the basics: as Christians we get to care for the orphans, the widows, the vulnerable and the marginalized. In other words, we get to be people who, at all times, just 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 the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 9/2/2018.

Reflection: A Hard Teaching

What’s difficult about faith?

We might answer this question by first focusing on what’s possible and what’s not. The question becomes a history and science debate. We read Genesis 1-2 (the creation of the world), and realize it doesn’t tell us that the earth is 4 billion years old. We move on from there to Jesus’ story and spend hours looking at star charts, trying to use astrophysics to prove that the Star over Bethlehem really happened. We can’t really do that so we move on, looking at Jesus’ life, and wonder about his miracles. We ask if he could really raise someone from the dead, heal a blind person, and feed over 5000 people with just a few loaves of bread. When these stories fail to match up with what we believe is possible, we start to struggle. The inconsistencies between scripture and “the real world” causes us to say, “I can’t believe.” This debate can feel like it’s a science vs faith issue. But it really isn’t. What we’re doing is taking what we know and wondering what our faith has to say about it. That impulse is completely normal, completely faithful, and is something people have done for thousands of years. Instead of focusing on the question of science and history, we should step back and look at why we’re doing. And that’s because, I think, we know that faith is hard. It’s not easy. Faith isn’t about trying to escape the life’s problems. Rather, faith is about living through them. And as followers of Jesus, what can make faith difficult is sometimes Jesus himself.

In today’s reading from the gospel according to John 6:56-71, the difficult teaching is Jesus’ promise about his body. The disciples do not question his abilities, his faithfulness, or that he’s a teacher from God. But what they can’t fathom is how Jesus’ body connects them to God. We know from our personal experience just how difficult bodies can be. They grow, change, and enable us to do amazing things. But our bodies also get sick, grow old, and wear out. Some of us, through cultural expectations and teachings, learn to dislike our body, wanting it to change. Bodies are very human and bodies do not last forever. Yet it’s through a body, Jesus says, that forms an eternal relationship with the Creator of everything.

For me, the difficult thing about faith is that faith is meant to be lived in our bodies. God chose to enter the world, live in a human body, and to experience life like we do. It’s through a body, through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, that God gives us the faith to trust that we are never on our own. This trust is meant to be experience in our current body, as we are right now. This faith is meant to flow into every nook and cranny that is our sometimes awesome, sometimes broken, body. Faith is not meant to be only an abstract thing. Faith isn’t something we keep in the back of our minds. Our faith is a gift from God lived through our bodies and our words. Jesus lived and died for you as you are. He didn’t live or die for the perfect version of you, the fit version of you, or for the most instagramable version of you. He lived and died for everything that makes you you – and that includes your body. And it’s through baptism, faith, prayer, and being fed ta the Lord’s table, that we discover how the eternal life can be lived, right now, in our non-eternal bodies.

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 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/26/2018.

Give Freely. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, September 2018 Edition

Let’s try a little exercise. Imagine strangers visiting your home. You’ve never met them before and this is the first time they’ve ever seen you. Instead of introducing yourself to them, you invite them into your kitchen. They open up your refrigerator and cupboards. What would they find?

They might find some old takeout Chinese food you should have been thrown out two weeks ago. They might notice your love of fruity carbonated waters and the imported butter you use for baking. They might also notice you don’t always have all the food you actually need. Our kitchens reveal a lot about our lives. They show what we like to eat and what we can afford to buy. Kitchens reveal the basic items we must have and any health situations we are living through. When we have enough, we are able to focus on our families, studies, jobs, and living the life we want to live. When we struggle, worrying about where our next meal drowns out everything else.

One of our spiritual gifts as CLC is our willingness to feed others. For the past 33 years, our Genesis Garden has produced hundreds of pounds of fresh produce every year for our neighbors utilizing the Center for Food Action in Englewood. Our garden was recently highlighted at the New Jersey Synod Assembly and was shown to the Pinecrest Leadership Camp for Lutheran Youth in the Metropolitan New York Synod. It’s also become a model for other congregations in our area who are interested in giving back to the community. Beyond the garden, the food donations you drop off in the narthex (our church lobby) are combined with financial gifts from Care Committee, CLC-Women, and others to help the Center for Food Action to feed neighbors in Bergen County. We’ve also strengthen our ties with the Tri-Boro Food Pantry based in Park Ridge. Our Vacation Bible School families, as you’ll see later in this edition of the Messenger, donated several dozen bags of groceries to local families in need. By working together, we can help all families in need worry less about hunger and, instead, live their lives the way God wants them to.

September is the month when our programming year begins. Our two worship Sundays kick-off is September 16. Choirs will return for rehearsals, confirmation classes will start; a new adult education program will launch; and our life as a church will get busy. During this time, it’s easy to focus only our personal needs. But our life and faith grow when we keep our eyes looking outwards. As we start a busy September, let’s keep noticing the needs of our neighbors. Let’s keep an eye on Jesus. Let’s keep feeding all our neighbors. And let’s find new ways to serve and love because CLC is at our best when we, like Jesus, give freely and abundantly.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

Children’s Sermon: Rules of the Game

Bring a board game!

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So I have something with me today – what is it? Looks like a game! Right! This is a game. It’s a board game that teenagers and adults can play. It’s called go through the game and show the box to the kids.

Now, when we have a game – and we want to know how to play it – we need to find something. What do we need to find? The instructions! That’s right. The instructions. And here are the instructions for this game. Go through the instructions – not describing how to play the game but different things the game gives us.

These instructions help us play the game the way the creator of the game intended. They’re a list of rules that help us enjoy the game and have fun. When we, together, follow the instructions – we all can have fun even if we don’t win.

Instructions aren’t necessarily easy. And they are sometimes hard to understand. We need to make sure we can read them, have the pieces we need, and can follow along. Some instructions are simple – others are complex. Instructions can be difficult – but they’re helpful for us to play the game the way the Creator intended.

Today, we’re going to hear in our readings from the bible that will sound like a list of instructions. And they’re not always easy to understand or follow. Yet we have to remember that because God loves us and Jesus is with us always, God gives us instructions to help all people experience God’s love. God’s instructions are away to help each other, take care of each other, be kind to each other, and more.

There might be time when we get an instruction that we might not understand. Or an instructions that feels like it doesn’t really work for us where we live. And that’s okay. God wants us to listen to these words, to read these instructions, and struggle to see if they help us to love each other. They might – or they might not. But God knows that when we gather together to figure these instructions out, when we pray and worship and share communion together, and when we bring a whole church of people together to figure this out – a church full of different people and different backgrounds and different experiences – the Holy Spirit will let us know how we can love each other the way God wants us to. Because love – the love we see as modeled and experiences and given to us through Jesus Christ – that’s our main instruction – and when we can love like that, we live the way God, the creator of everything, wants us too.

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 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/19/2018.

Submit: a sermon on what to do with wives being subject to husbands

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:15-33

My sermon from the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 19, 2018) on Ephesians 5:15-33. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


The readings from the Bible we hear on Sunday morning are not set in stone. They can be changed. Traditionally, our community follows the Revised Common Lectionary, a 3 year cycle of readings that assigns specific texts to specific Sundays and days of the week. The lectionary is used by many different Christians denominations, including Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodist; and serves as a powerful reminder that our differences as Christians does not replace our unity as members of the body of Christ. I like the lectionary because it invites us to spend time with all 66 books of the Bible instead of only my personal favorites. But the lectionary doesn’t show us everything. And it sometimes goes out of its way to avoid the more difficult writings on Sunday mornings. I consider a text difficult if I don’t want it read out loud when my two young kids are in the room. The bible is full of these kinds of passages, especially ones used to justify the atrocities we commit against each other. Wars, genocide, slavery, and sexual assaults – it’s all in there. I prefer a bible passage telling me to do something really hard, like love my enemies. But I’m less comfortable with a passage like Psalm 137, which celebrates the brutal killing of my enemies’ children. The lectionary tries to avoid these biblical texts of terror. But there are times when, I think, the Spirit wants us to engage these uncomfortable texts. And so that’s why I chose to expand our reading from Ephesians today, making sure we heard about wives, and husbands, and “being subject to.”

Now, these verses, especially 22 through 24, can be hard to hear because the universal church has used these verses terribly. I’ve seen writers use Ephesians 5 to deny a woman’s individuality and the gifts God gave her. I’ve seen church leaders use this passage to encourage wives to stay with their abusive husbands and partners. This text, along with others, is why women weren’t allowed to become pastors or even serve on their church council – which is a position that dominates many Christian churches today. It was thought that a wife, regardless of her vocation or her calling, would never be able to lead men because she would always be led by one. So this is an odd text to hear in our context because Lutherans have ordained women as pastors for the last 45 years. The bishop of New Jersey, Tracie Bartholomew, has preached from this pulpit and presided over that altar. And in the history of Christ Lutheran Church, we’ve had one woman pastor, held at least one ordination for a woman, and have had countless women leaders, including council presidents, who have lead this church. This kind of change is still relatively recent, especially when compared to the 2000 years of history that came before it. But we now recognize that gifts for leadership are not bound to any one gender. The Holy Spirit has helped us discover the more inclusive church we are called to be. This text from Ephesians doesn’t seem fully relevant to us anymore. So we might want to ignore it. But this text is still in our bibles. We can’t pretend it’s not there. Instead, we can use the Spiritual gifts God has given us – gifts of knowledge, experience, intellect, and guidance – to engage our bible seriously and faithfully. So, with all of that, what can we do with a text asking wives to be subject to their husbands?

Well, we can first figure out what this text actually is. These verses continue the moral teachings started in Ephesians 4. Our life with Christ has something to say about how we treat each other and ourselves. Yet our connection to Jesus, while made real in our baptism, in holy communion, and in our faith, is still pretty mysterious. It’s hard to know exactly what life with Jesus looks like even in our most intimate relationships. The author of Ephesians looked around in his cultural context and noticed people living in ancient Roman households. Now, all households are different, but every society has a vision of what they think a family unit should look like. Think of the rules we hear in Ephesians as Rome’s version of the Leave it to Beaver, 1950s vision of what home life should be like in the United States. The author of Ephesians took this idealized model of the Roman household and showed how Christ matters there. But he also used the Roman household as a model and a metaphor for what our collective life with Christ might look like. This metaphor is tricky because a Roman household assumes that certain people, because of their gender and their social status, are entitled to having power over others. When these assumptions are not questioned or examined, then our model for Christian community and the Christian home ends up being very Roman. So when we see a hierarchy, with some at the top and others at the bottom, we want to be the ones who stay on top. Which is why some, I think, have clung to this text from Ephesians even though it’s rooted in a Roman cultural concept developed almost 2,000 years ago.

So when we listen to this text and see the cultural hierarchy imported into it, we discover the flaw within it. Every model for living that we take from our cultural context and merge into our life with Christ will always be an imperfect metaphor because we are imperfect. We are sinners. And as we try to flesh out what the mystery of living with Christ looks like, the models we use will never be as perfect as we want to be. We will latch onto models and metaphors that give power to some while denying it to others. And people, especially men in the church, have too often used that power for harm. The church continues to struggle with this text because, in my opinion, we haven’t paid enough attention to what it actually is. We haven’t always recognized how the Roman household was imported into it. And, at the same time, we didn’t noticed what Christ is doing in that household. Since wives are named first, we focused on making them subject to their husbands. But we didn’t see that the “obligation of the husband to love is treated more extensively than the obligation of the wife to be subject.” We didn’t notice how “the radical thrust of the gospel is putting pressure on those who have authority and power.” (Brown, Introduction to the New Testament, 1997). We spent so much time trying to assert our power over others, that we forgot what Jesus actually does with his authority and power. We’re not here to try to hold onto our power or keep it only for ourselves. Rather, as people baptized into Christ, we are heirs to Jesus’ mission and his ministry. We have, because of Christ’s self-sacrifice and love, been given a deep and ever present relationship with the creator of everything. So our life together, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and even in our marriages – our life together isn’t about what power and authority we think we’re entitled to. Instead, our life together is about how we get to like Christ to one another.

As human beings living in a very human world, we will always create new idealized models of how we think life should be led in communities and in families. But none of these models will match fully the Christian life we’re called to lead. Some of the models will work for a time but, eventually, they will be replaced by something else. Yet regardless of the model we find ourselves living in, our life in Christ commits us to changing those models so that we can empower and give new life to those around us. We get to help all people, including our spouses, and the most vulnerable, live the lives God is calling them to live. The model that demanded a wife be subject to her husband is fading into a new reality where we together help all women lead the body of Christ. The idealized models we use to imagine our communities, our homes, and our churches will change. The old ways will turn into something new. But because we are faithful, loved, and fed by Christ at his table, there is one model for Christian living that will never fade away. All of us, regardless of our gender and our marriage-status, are called to seek out what we can give up so that everyone around us can love, live, and thrive.



Reflection: Eternal in John

Last Monday, we hosted an interfaith event called “Welcoming the Stranger.” The event focused on faith and immigration, letting scripture interact with the personal stories of immigrants. After a piece of scripture was read, a reflection was offered by someone who went through the immigration process (including those who were undocumented) or who work with people currently in detention centers. Videos from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service were used to show how Lutherans from several different denominations have responded over the years to the surge of unaccompanied minors and families who have sought asylum in the US. None of the clergy in attendance preached. Instead, we invited the words of scripture and the words of personal stories to swirl in the air around us. It wasn’t an event designed to provide answers. Rather, it was an event inviting us to, in every experience, ask faith filled questions.

One of the common themes in the stories we heard was food. Throughout the immigrants’ journey, from its start to their time in detention centers, the food was always poor and there was never enough of it. We know how the lack of food impacts our body and mind. We lose energy, have difficulties processing what other people are saying, and struggle with simple day-to-day tasks. The lack of food increases our stress levels as we worry about where our next meal is coming from. Hunger takes a physical, mental and spiritual toll on us, impacting every area of our life.

As we listen to Jesus’ words today in John 6:51-58, it’s easy to latch onto the word “eternal” and think “forever.” For us, eternal is a measurement defined by duration. Eternal life is about trying to live forever. There’s a truth to that but there’s another aspect to eternal we sometimes forget. The eternal life Jesus offered wasn’t just about living a long time. Rather, a life with Jesus is filled with value and worth. This kind of life isn’t without struggle. Even those of us who share in Holy Communion will, eventually, die. Yet this life with Jesus is one where our purpose, identity and joy is made real and secure in a savior who is never far from us. We don’t always know what life will bring. We don’t always know when, through no fault of our own, we might need to take a journey that leaves us hungry, scared, and full of doubt. But when we cling to Jesus, trusting that he is with us, we can face our troubles knowing that the struggles we face are not the limit of who we are. We belong to Christ; we are eternally valued; we are loved; and we are, even right now, living our eternal life.

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 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/19/2018.

Be Excellent to Each Other: finding a fuller picture of Jesus

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

My sermon from the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 12, 2018) on Ephesians 4:25-5:2. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


Over the last few months, my brother has been figuring out our family tree. We know a bunch about my mom’s family and some about my dad’s mom’s family. But when it comes to my dad’s dad, my grandfather, we knew practically nothing. Every few years, we searched various genealogical websites, trying to find something about him and his family. Nothing ever came up until this year. We found this: a copy of my grandfather’s registration card for the military during World War 2. Now that’s a pretty neat and helpful thing to find. It’s got his age, a birthdate, a birthplace – Silver City, New Mexico, and my grandfather’s job: he was a farm laborer. The card also recorded the name of someone who knew where my grandfather was at all times. And that person, Sylvester, is my great-grandfather. This image was our first tangible encounter with our great grandfather – and we both wanted to find out more. My brother spent days looking at census records, newspaper clippings, and whatever else he could find. But it was a struggle because my great-grandfather’s last name kept changing. Even on this draft card, you can see how the printed last name of my grandfather doesn’t exactly match his signature at the bottom. And my great-grandfather’s last name is missing a letter. This problem only gets worse when we look at this image from the 1930 United States’ census. I discovered that my great-grandfather spent time in California and that census takers deleted the first 2 letters of his last name. Sylvester’s first name, in the census at least, retained its Mexican spelling and it showed that he, and many of his children, were born in Mexico. They moved to this country at some point but I didn’t know when or where until we found this: an index card recording their border crossing. On February 7, 1917, my great grandfather, my great grandmother, and their kids crossed the border at Columbus, New Mexico. I don’t know why they entered the United States. But they are, on the card, listed as refugees. In 1917, a Mexican Civil War was tearing up Northern Mexico. So it’s not hard to imagine my great-grandfather and his family wanting to escape the bloodshed and violence all around them. They, as family, sought asylum and safety in the United States.

Now, if you look closely at the border crossing card, you’ll see that my great-grandfather’s last name is, once again, spelled differently. And that’s annoying. Yet these constant changes in spelling provide an opportunity for us to engage with these documents in a different way. My encounter with my great-grandfather is bounded by these written words. To uncover the fullness of his story, I need to recognize how the changes in spelling matched his life as an immigrant, and a Mexican, in the United States. To really understand who he was, I needed to see all his words, including their English and Mexican spellings.

This exercise of looking at how we encounter someone and expanding what that might mean, is a helpful exercise for our faith. For many of us, our encounters with Jesus are bounded by words. These words are the ones we hear on Sunday morning and the ones we read and feel when we open our bibles and our daily devotionals. We know that Jesus is the Word but our words can sometimes limit what we think Jesus might be like. Instead of seeing Jesus as this expansive, inclusive, and amazing event, we let our words box Jesus in. And I’m saying “our words” because we need to be mindful that when we encounter Jesus in scripture, we’re encountering him in our language which wasn’t originally his. Jesus didn’t speak 21st century English or Spanish. He didn’t know our figures of speech, our idioms, or what emojis we like to end our text messages with. Instead, he spoke Aramaic. And he probably knew Ancient Hebrew and maybe Ancient Greek. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, made sure that his words were written down and shared through that Ancient Greek dialect that we no longer speak. Our encounters with Jesus’ story happen through a holy, and Spirit guided, translation. But that translation is built on an interpretation of what Ancient Greek and modern day English means. Sometimes, to fully see Jesus and what our life with him might look like, we need to read his story in a different translation or see his story interpreted in a language not our own. We might even need to step into that Ancient Greek text itself. This exercise isn’t always necessary but it’s sometimes helpful. And it makes a difference today – with this text from Ephesians, where we see the author telling us to be kind.

Now being kind is more than just being nice. Being kind requires us to empathize, care, and serve each other with love and respect. Being kind takes work, sacrifice, and is sometimes a struggle. So there’s something good, life giving, and loving about being kind. But when we look at this text in English, is there much here that is Christ specific? The actions and behaviors that Ephesians describes as good are pretty standard, regardless of our religious beliefs. Not lying to each other, working through our conflicts, and not stealing from each other is good advice for any community, religious or not. Much of these ethical teachings in Ephesians can be reduced to the golden rule: where we treat each other the way we want to be treated. It’s not entirely clear how these kinds of actions, when they include Jesus, make a more unique and holy difference in our lives and in our world.

So it’s at this point when reading the Ancient Greek text becomes helpful. As you can see on the screen, this text from Ephesians in Greek is interesting. And I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t read it. But, with a little help, I was able to place red boxes around two important words in this text. The first box surrounds the word for kind. The second box is for Christ himself. The words in those two boxes look similar. And they are because the words translated as kind and Christ are closely related. When the Ancient church heard this passage in Greek, they smiled because they recognized the wordplay being done through the words kind and Christ. They would, through this more expansive engagement with the text, understand that they were being asked to do more than just be kind. They were, at the same time, being asked to be a Christ to everyone they knew.

Part of being a Christ to each other is going to look like we’re being kind. But there are times when being a Christ to each other means we’re going to need to change our point of view, our expectations, and maybe even our way of life. Being a Christ means we have to be with Christ, spending time with his story, with his words, with his world, and with his people, regardless of where they come from or what they believe. What makes our actions as Christians different from everyone else, is that our service and love for each other is wrapped up in a savior who lived and died so that all people might discover God’s love for them. When we see our faith as an expansive act of love, we uncover a core part of our own story. And that story is not limited by our experiences, our thoughts, what’s happened to us, or even what we found on Our story is Christ’s story because we are Christ’s people and so we love ourselves, each other, and all people as Christ loves us.