Children’s Sermon: Meet John (the baptist)

Bring Honey Sticks. Bring Spark Story Bible.

Hi everyone! I’m so glad you are here today.

So today in our gospel reading, we’re going to meet someone named John. Now John was a bit unusual. Open story bible to page 234. Here’s one picture of what an artist imagined John the Baptist to look like. What do you see? He’s got big hair. Little eyes. Big Nose. A big mouth. And he’s eating a bug. A bug! It’s a kind of bug called a grasshopper. Our bible story will tell us today that this man named John will be hanging out in the wilderness eating grasshoppers and wild honey. That doesn’t sound like the most yummy meal to eat.

But John seems to be doing okay out in the wilderness. And that word “wilderness” is important. It’s a word that means a place where there are no towns, buildings, cars, and where people don’t really live. What do you think a place like that looks like? A forest. A prairie. A dessert. It’s empty of people but full of animals, and maybe different kinds of plants. A wilderness is a place that’s a little bit adventurous but also a little scary. It’s a place where, if we need help, we might not find what we need. It’s a place where, in today’s term, you get no cell service. There’s no gas stations if our gas tank in our car is low or a water fountain and we can’t stop by Target to pick up new clothes or something we need. A wilderness is a place where we might need to bring all the stuff we need. We’ll need to bring all the food, and bed, and a tent – all the things to have a camp. Because, out in the wilderness, it feels like nothing is out there. We can feel scared because we might feel alone. We can be a little nervous because we might feel lost and unsure of where to go. And we might feel anxious because being a new place or a place far from home can be scary.

But there’s someone else always out in the wilderness – and that’s God.

John was in the wilderness because he knew that even in scary places, God is there. Even when we are scared, or we find ourselves anxious, or we’re confused and feeling lost, God is right there with us. In fact, there’s nowhere we can go that God can’t find us. There might be times when you’re feeling anxious, scared, or lost. You might find yourself in a wilderness or feeling like you’re living one. But even when we feel as if we are in a wilderness, God is always there, helping us, loving us, guiding us, and making sure we are never alone.

Now, you’ll hear how John ate bugs. I couldn’t find any bugs…but I did find…honey! So if you can have a honey stick, here you go. Share the honey sticks.

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 Second Sunday of Advent, 12/10/2017.

Prepare the way?

Does God need us to prepare the way of the Lord?

Today’s reading from Isaiah 40:1-11 is a text Christians see as pointing to the ministry John the Baptist did. God called a person to bring God’s word of comfort and challenge to all of God’s people. But this text is more than just a prediction of something that happened 600 years after it was written. It’s a passage that also tells the story of a prophet preaching to the Jewish community in Exile. The Babylonian empire had destroyed Jerusalem, burned God’s Temple, and forcibly relocated the survivors to what is now Iraq. The people felt abandoned because the war destroyed their homeland. They wondered where God was because it seemed as if God broke all of God’s promises. Their faith, identity, and sense of self are in turmoil. And that’s when God brings all of them a word of comfort and hope. At first, this new prophet wondered why they should preach at all. The people, the prophet proclaimed, are like grass and flowers – they might pay attention to God’s word when it suits them but, eventually, they will turn away. God, however, responded by reminding the prophet of who God is. The value and worth of God’s word does not depend on what people do once they hear it. Instead, God’s word matters because it comes from God. And even in our moments when we feel abandoned and all alone, God is still with us and will never let us go.

There are times in our lives when we think we can convince God to something on our behalf. We bargain with God, making promises of our own. We tell God we’ll go to church each week, hoping that we will be blessed. We promise to pray every night, and hope God will make a health crisis pass. We see a preacher on tv and send him money because he promises that God will reward us with more money than we give to him. And we sometimes act as if we can force Jesus’ return if we make some kind of political or religious event happen. But does God, the creator of the universe, need us to do that? Can we truly bargain with the one who is the past, the present, and the future all at once? Our God isn’t a God who believes in “pay-to-play” kind of realities. Our God, instead, just loves. Our God, instead, keeps God’s promises. We worship, study, pray, and live generous lives because, in Christ, we discover that is exactly who God is. Jesus knows what it’s like to feel abandoned. He knows what it’s like when people don’t believe the stories he shares. He knows what it’s like when the powerful try to shut him down, refusing to listen to his experiences. He knows what it is like to cry out to God in pain, suffering, and hope. Jesus knows what it’s like to be like us. The story of God isn’t a story where people someone convince God to be on our side. God’s story is about discovering how God is with us, no matter what. When we know Jesus, we see God more clearly. And when we live a Jesus-like life, we discover who God wants us 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 Second Sunday of Advent, 12/10/2017.

No Room: starting in the middle of the story

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8

My sermon from Second Sunday of Advent (December 10, 2017) on Mark 1:1-8. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

****************************

If you are giving out Christmas gifts this year, who on your list is the hardest person to shop for? For me, it’s my parents. They are terrible to shop for. They are one of the few people I know who, when you ask them what they want, will say “nothing” – and they mean it. They buy what they want when they want it; they like to plan and pay for their own adventures; and they are content with what they have. It’s so annoying. So over the last few years, I’ve resorted to sending them a photo book full of pictures of their grandkids. I go through all the pictures I took over the last year, relive all those memories we created, and put an entire year into book form. It’s sort of a fun thing to create. But making this kind of book is also a little terrifying because I want it to be perfect. I have this subconscious desire to give my parents a photo book that’s full of beautiful pictures. I want them to open the book up and instantly know what we were doing without me having to explain it. And if I’m honest, I also want to – sort of – show off just a tiny little bit. I want to humblebrag and overtly brag about just how fun, awesome, and well-adjusted my family is. And this is an odd thing to do because my parents know just how imperfect we are. They’re not asking me to brag or measure up but I feel like I need to anyways. There’s probably some kind of family dynamic at work here that I should unpack with a therapist at some point but there’s another issue here too. There’s something about this season, about these four weeks before Christmas when all of us, I think, try to chase after a picture perfect kind of Christmas. And even if we don’t think we do, the image of what a perfect Christmas looks like is all around us. Stores, tv ads, and every show on HGTV flashes hints about just how postcard perfect your holiday could be. I wonder if, even subconsciously, being around so much perfect ends up changing what we do. We start needing our Christmas tree and out decorations to be just right. We need to find that perfect present for everyone on our list. And we do all we can to look impeccable and festive at every holiday party we attend. We are in a season where being perfect isn’t only for kids trying to use their good behavior to convince Santa to bring them the toy they really really want. It’s also a season when all of us chase after perfection: the perfect home, the perfect meal, the perfect relationship, and a perfect, peaceful, and loving family. The weeks before Christmas is when we try to make an ideal a reality. That’s why I want my photo book for my parents to be all kinds of awesome. And why I want the last photo in that book to be a perfect family portrait with everyone, including the 3 year old, looking straight at the camera.

But you know what? That perfect picture has yet to come. And it’s sort of amazing how many different ways that picture fails to actually work out. The Christmas ideal, this picture or expectation we carry with us – rarely ever shows up – because we live in the real world. There’s never a holiday where there isn’t stress, or worry, or disagreement, or conflict. And even when the stars align and we are blessed to have a moment that meets our incredible expectations, that moment doesn’t last. The imperfect always comes back. And even though I think most of us know, deep down, that this season will not be perfect, we still get caught up chasing after our ideal. And that chase causes us to act as if this season, somehow, depends fully on us. If the tree lights go out or a turkey gets burned or if a heated conversation leads to conflict and anger around our dining room table – the more we chase after the ideal, the more we make Christmas depend on what do, what we say, and what we can afford. We make Christmas, in the end, depend on us. And a Christmas that depends on us, doesn’t really sound like Christmas at all.

Now, the next four weeks will not be as perfect as we want them to be. Our homes will not look like they belong on HGTV nor will every Christmas light on our pre-lit tree actually last all month long. And not everyone in our family will be looking at the camera. But that’s okay. Because this season, this Advent, this waiting for Christmas – isn’t a season that depends on us. It’s a season about a God who showed up, stuck around, and will come back soon even though we, as people, rarely live and love and serve the world as the ideal Christians God calls us to be.

Jesus, in this passage from Mark, makes a promise to us and to the entire world. He tells us to keep awake because we do not know when the master of the house will come; they might come in the evening, or at midnight, or at the cockcrow, or at dawn. Jesus, in these verses, seems to tell his friends to be ready for the moment when God will shake every mountain. But I think Jesus is really telling them to keep their eyes open because God is about to do something that doesn’t appear ideal. Jesus, in the chapters right after this passage, takes his first steps towards the Cross: a journey starts with a meal, in the evening, with his friends. And after this last supper, Jesus is betrayed and, in a moment of anguish and prayer, he finds his disciples asleep because it was the middle of the night. Jesus is then arrested and his trial begins. We listen and watch his disciple Peter deny him as the cock crows. And then, in the morning, Jesus is brought before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate who then condemns him to death. In the words of David Lose, “the heavens shake and the sun is darkened … [at] precisely … the moment when [Jesus] is nailed to the cross and our breath is taken away as we see God’s love poured out for us and all the world.” We are not in a season asking us to reach some ideal. Rather, we are with a God who, regardless of the season, comes to us as we are because the imperfect, the vulnerable, the sick, lonely, poor, and hungry are worth a love that does not end. Will we still try to chase our ideal Christmas this year? Yes. But does that mean that Jesus will only show up if we get Christmas right? Not at all. Because the picture perfect love that God gives the world is a love that shows up in the form of a fussy and vulnerable little baby and is made real by a savior who, with arms outstretched, shows us what a picture perfect kind of love actually looks like.

Amen.

Play

Children’s Sermon: Invite and Share

Bring 100 postcards with an invitation to Christmas Eve worship services. Be by the Advent Wreath.

Hi everyone! I’m so glad you are here today. I hope you had a great week.

Now today is a special day because it is the start of a season in the church year called Advent. Can you say Advent? Advent! Great! Advent is 4 weeks long – 4 complete Sundays – and it’s a time when the church is covered in the color…point to stole…blue. Later today, some of us will decorate the church with wreaths and a big, green, tree. Advent is a time when we’re waiting for something. In fact, the word Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” So what do you think we’re waiting for? Christmas! That’s right. Advent is the season when we countdown to Christmas, to the day we celebrate Jesus being born and God choosing to live a human life to serve, love, and save the entire world.

Advent is also a time when we use this. Go over to the Advent Wreath. This is called an Advent wreath and it has space for 4 candles. Each candle represents one Sunday as we countdown to Christmas. So since today is the first Sunday we’re going to light one candle. Let’s light one candle together. Light one candle with the kids.

One of the beautiful things about candles is they burn, shine, and look pretty. What’s something that candles give off? Heat. Light. If we get close, we can feel heat because it is on fire. And if we look at it, we see light. The candle shares it’s light and it’s warmth, serving as a reminder to what Jesus is about to do: come into the world to show us the warmth of God’s love for you and all of us.

And so, when I was thinking about what the candle shares, I thought of something that maybe we can share too. We as a church are going to have a big celebration on Christmas Eve. Since Christmas Eve is on a Sunday, we’ll have one worship service at 10 am in the morning to mark the end of Advent. And then we’ll have our two worship services at night, at 5 pm and 10:30 pm, to mark Jesus entering the world. I love these Christmas services. The music is great, everyone gets dressed up, and it’s a beautiful time for all of us to be together. It’s a great service that shows just how much God loves us. And all of us are going to experience that – but wouldn’t it be great if all our friends or family members or neighbors could join us? Yeah! So why don’t we share an invitation with them to do that?

I have with me postcards and I’m going to need your help. Let’s give 1 or 2 postcards to each person and family. This way, all of you can address them to people you know and invite them to come to worship with you on Christmas Eve. With a simple postcard, we can – like this candle – bring warmth and hope to someone who might need it this year. So let’s invite and share Jesus this Christmas.

Pass out postcards. 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 First Sunday of Advent, 12/3/2017.

Quake: When God Shows Up

When God shows up, what do we expect will happen? Today’s reading from Isaiah 64:1-9 is asking this kind of question. This section of Isaiah was probably recorded immediately after Israel’s captivity in Babylon ended. For almost 70 years, many of the people from Jerusalem lived in exile in Babylon. They built new homes and created new communities in the heart of the empire that defeated them. When the Persian empire destroy Babylon, the people of Jerusalem were invited to return home. Most decided to stay home in Babylon but some moved to Jerusalem, a city they never knew. The city was in rubble and God’s Temple was gone. Food was scarce. Conflict was everywhere. As the community started to rebuild, they lamented and prayed to God. They wanted to God to be God and cause the world to tremble.

I’ll admit that this image of God is a powerful one. Wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of experience of God? Imagine the heavens opening up and God landing in Northern New Jersey. The hills would quake and move. The Pascack Valley would rock and roll. God would show up and everyone would know God is here. A God who does this is a God who is easy to see, experience, and share with others. It’s a God who expresses strength and might. A God who shakes mountains is a God we want on our side because nothing on earth can compare.

And yet this is the first reading from scripture we hear this Advent season. We are in a period of waiting until Christmas, a story about God coming down, finally comes. But when God finally does come, the mountains do not quake like we expect. Instead, God enters the world as a baby named Jesus. The cries of this baby do not shake buildings. Instead, his cries bring his mother and father to his side. In Jesus, God chooses to live a human life, from birth to death and beyond, because that’s the awesome deed no one would reasonably expect.

As Christians, we are invited to lament like the prophet in Isaiah does here. God wants us to call God out, telling God to be a promise keeper. But we are also invited to open our eyes and see the ways God is already here. Sometimes the most powerful experience we need is a whisper of hope, a shoulder to cry on, a person who says they care about us, or a baby who spends his first night in a manger.

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 First Sunday of Advent, 12/3/2017.

Don’t Yawn: The Season Doesn’t Depend on Us

[Jesus said:] “But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Mark 13:24-37

My sermon from First Sunday of Advent (December 3, 2017) on Matthew 25:31-46. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

****************************

If you are giving out Christmas gifts this year, who on your list is the hardest person to shop for? For me, it’s my parents. They are terrible to shop for. They are one of the few people I know who, when you ask them what they want, will say “nothing” – and they mean it. They buy what they want when they want it; they like to plan and pay for their own adventures; and they are content with what they have. It’s so annoying. So over the last few years, I’ve resorted to sending them a photo book full of pictures of their grandkids. I go through all the pictures I took over the last year, relive all those memories we created, and put an entire year into book form. It’s sort of a fun thing to create. But making this kind of book is also a little terrifying because I want it to be perfect. I have this subconscious desire to give my parents a photo book that’s full of beautiful pictures. I want them to open the book up and instantly know what we were doing without me having to explain it. And if I’m honest, I also want to – sort of – show off just a tiny little bit. I want to humblebrag and overtly brag about just how fun, awesome, and well-adjusted my family is. And this is an odd thing to do because my parents know just how imperfect we are. They’re not asking me to brag or measure up but I feel like I need to anyways. There’s probably some kind of family dynamic at work here that I should unpack with a therapist at some point but there’s another issue here too. There’s something about this season, about these four weeks before Christmas when all of us, I think, try to chase after a picture perfect kind of Christmas. And even if we don’t think we do, the image of what a perfect Christmas looks like is all around us. Stores, tv ads, and every show on HGTV flashes hints about just how postcard perfect your holiday could be. I wonder if, even subconsciously, being around so much perfect ends up changing what we do. We start needing our Christmas tree and out decorations to be just right. We need to find that perfect present for everyone on our list. And we do all we can to look impeccable and festive at every holiday party we attend. We are in a season where being perfect isn’t only for kids trying to use their good behavior to convince Santa to bring them the toy they really really want. It’s also a season when all of us chase after perfection: the perfect home, the perfect meal, the perfect relationship, and a perfect, peaceful, and loving family. The weeks before Christmas is when we try to make an ideal a reality. That’s why I want my photo book for my parents to be all kinds of awesome. And why I want the last photo in that book to be a perfect family portrait with everyone, including the 3 year old, looking straight at the camera.

But you know what? That perfect picture has yet to come. And it’s sort of amazing how many different ways that picture fails to actually work out. The Christmas ideal, this picture or expectation we carry with us – rarely ever shows up – because we live in the real world. There’s never a holiday where there isn’t stress, or worry, or disagreement, or conflict. And even when the stars align and we are blessed to have a moment that meets our incredible expectations, that moment doesn’t last. The imperfect always comes back. And even though I think most of us know, deep down, that this season will not be perfect, we still get caught up chasing after our ideal. And that chase causes us to act as if this season, somehow, depends fully on us. If the tree lights go out or a turkey gets burned or if a heated conversation leads to conflict and anger around our dining room table – the more we chase after the ideal, the more we make Christmas depend on what do, what we say, and what we can afford. We make Christmas, in the end, depend on us. And a Christmas that depends on us, doesn’t really sound like Christmas at all.

Now, the next four weeks will not be as perfect as we want them to be. Our homes will not look like they belong on HGTV nor will every Christmas light on our pre-lit tree actually last all month long. And not everyone in our family will be looking at the camera. But that’s okay. Because this season, this Advent, this waiting for Christmas – isn’t a season that depends on us. It’s a season about a God who showed up, stuck around, and will come back soon even though we, as people, rarely live and love and serve the world as the ideal Christians God calls us to be.

Jesus, in this passage from Mark, makes a promise to us and to the entire world. He tells us to keep awake because we do not know when the master of the house will come; they might come in the evening, or at midnight, or at the cockcrow, or at dawn. Jesus, in these verses, seems to tell his friends to be ready for the moment when God will shake every mountain. But I think Jesus is really telling them to keep their eyes open because God is about to do something that doesn’t appear ideal. Jesus, in the chapters right after this passage, takes his first steps towards the Cross: a journey starts with a meal, in the evening, with his friends. And after this last supper, Jesus is betrayed and, in a moment of anguish and prayer, he finds his disciples asleep because it was the middle of the night. Jesus is then arrested and his trial begins. We listen and watch his disciple Peter deny him as the cock crows. And then, in the morning, Jesus is brought before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate who then condemns him to death. In the words of David Lose, “the heavens shake and the sun is darkened … [at] precisely … the moment when [Jesus] is nailed to the cross and our breath is taken away as we see God’s love poured out for us and all the world.” We are not in a season asking us to reach some ideal. Rather, we are with a God who, regardless of the season, comes to us as we are because the imperfect, the vulnerable, the sick, lonely, poor, and hungry are worth a love that does not end. Will we still try to chase our ideal Christmas this year? Yes. But does that mean that Jesus will only show up if we get Christmas right? Not at all. Because the picture perfect love that God gives the world is a love that shows up in the form of a fussy and vulnerable little baby and is made real by a savior who, with arms outstretched, shows us what a picture perfect kind of love actually looks like.

Amen.

Play

An Invitation: A funeral homily for T.C. Sr.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

John 21:1-12a

This bit from John chapter 21 is one of my favorite parts in all of scripture. But to really know why I like this text so much, we need to rewind one full chapter. Chapter 20 is full of what Jesus does after the resurrection. He meets Mary Magdalene in the garden and she mistakes him for the gardner. Later on, Jesus walks into the room where his disciples are gathered together, hiding in fear. They did not expect Jesus’ death and they’re not sure what to do next. Jesus shows up to say hello and he makes a plan to come back the following week. But not everyone was in the room that first time. The Apostle Thomas didn’t believe what his friends told him. So Jesus responds by making sure Thomas is in the room when he shows up, and Jesus invites Thomas to see the holes in his hands and side. And then, after these stories, the entire chapter ends with a conclusion telling us that the gospel of John doesn’t report everything Jesus said and did – but it shares what we need for a full life with God. These last verses wrap up the entire book. It truly the end of the story. But then we turn the page and Jesus is there, inviting us to breakfast. The gospel according to John is supposed to end with Chapter 20. But it doesn’t. Jesus’ story with his disciples, continues. When we get to those moments in our life that feel like endings; when we get to those moments when disease or death draws our loved ones away from us, scripture tells us that our story, with Jesus, continues. And that story starts with an invitation.

Invitations can be powerful things. An invitation connects us to new experiences, new people, and new ideas. An invitation can bring people and communities into our lives that we never knew before. And an invitation is why I am here today. My first experience with T. was through his daughter-in-law, A. She called my church office when I was away from my desk so my parish administrator took a message and left it for me. On a piece of bright pink paper with the words “While You Were Out” on top, there was a name, a phone number, and a short note asking me to call back. Right there, in black ink, was my invitation into the story God had already written in the life of T.C. Sr. But I’ve also learned that this wasn’t the only invitation to show up this week. An invitation from one of T. and R.’s neighbors is what connected them to our church. And when I talked to their neighbor last Sunday before worship started, she shared with me that she had extended an invitation to R. over breakfast – and she was thrilled to find R. later that morning, waiting for the bus to church. This same neighbor made sure to invite me to meet R. And as I sat with R. in the back pews, before worship started, I got a taste of who T. was. I was honored and blessed to see the love R. has for him. I heard about his faith and his heart. And I felt the sorrow and sadness all deaths bring but also witnessed the thankfulness we have for the special people God brings into our lives.

I never knew T. but I know that you did. All of you are a testament to the life he lived. It was a life that began with an invitation to know God – an invitation God extended and made true to T. in his baptism. And in the years since, Jesus’ invitation to be with T., no matter what, was an invitation Jesus never walked away from. T.’s weariness is now gone. His burden is light. And he is now discovering the fullness of love that Jesus’ invitation brings while basking in the eternal light of our glorious Lord, forever and ever.

Amen.

A sermon on John 21:1-12 at a memorial service held a Funeral Home in Tenafly on 11/30/2017.

Church Twice on Sundays. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, December 2017 Edition

One of the gifts the November time change gives us is a gift I don’t usually embrace. The sun is setting earlier which gives me an opportunity to see something vibrant and colorful. But the sun sets at the same time when my day is transitioning. I race from the church to two different schools to pick up my kids. I take them home, unpack bags, feed cats and try to figure out what’s for dinner. In the middle of this daily busyness, I rarely notice the sky turning orange and red as the sun sets. I miss the best sunsets. Once my night calms down, at the moment when the sky turns a deep blue, my social media feeds are filled with pictures of the beautiful sunset I just missed. I experience the reds, oranges and golds that just happened in the deep blue moment before night begins. I try to remind myself to take a break and make time to look out the window tomorrow. But that reminder rarely sticks. My experience of the vibrant color-filled sky is limited to those moments when they sky is a deep blue.

The season of Advent is a season of blue. The cloth and fabric decorating our church mimics the blue color in the sky right before dawn breaks. But I think that blue matches the color that appears right after a sunset. Both of these moments are when we have just enough light to see. We remember the beautiful colors of the day that we just experienced and we look forward to dawn that’s about to come. It’s at these moments, I think, when our hope in Christ feels very real. We might be experiencing our own moments of being blue, waiting for something life-giving to come. We might feel as if the best moments of our lives are in our past, and we are in the sunset of our lives. We might long for the vibrant colors we have never seen or wish for a return to a past that, in hindsight, always looks better than they truly were. The deep blue moments in our lives can feel very long. But the story of Jesus is a story where the moments of deep blue are overcome by a love that shines bright. As followers of Jesus, we know Jesus has come. He walked on earth, gave hope to the hopeless and conquered death itself. There were times in his story when it looked like the sun had set, but a sun that sets is also a son that will soon rise.

This year Christmas Eve is on a Sunday. We will celebrate with our traditional evening worship at 5:00 pm and 10:30 pm (note the new time). But we will also mark the final Sunday of Advent that morning with one service at 10 am. Christmas is exciting, but Advent reminds us that we are people always rooted in the hope that the deep blue in this world is not God’s final word. I invite you to attend church twice this 24th. Spend the morning knowing that Jesus is with you even in the deep blue moments of your lives. And then celebrate that evening with all of God’s people because, in Jesus, a new day for the entire world has broken.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

Christ the King or Reign of Christ?

You did it! You survived another church year. Today is Christ the King Sunday. It’s a new holiday in the church calendar, established less than 100 years ago. In 1925, Pope Pius XI established this day to encourage Roman Catholics to recognize Christ’s authority in our lives. Christ the King was originally scheduled for the last Sunday in October (which might have been a way to push back against Lutherans and their Reformation Sunday) but was moved to the last Sunday in the church year in 1970. Many different protestant churches (including Lutherans) adopted this feast day because its central question is important for all Christians. We know Jesus is important and we commit ourselves to follow him. We celebrate his presence in our lives and sing hymns calling him the “king of kings.” Jesus matters – but does our everyday life act like he does?

Over the last few decades, a debate about name of this Sunday has emerged. Should we call this Sunday Christ the King when the word “king” is so problematic? There are plenty of kings in scripture that give the word “king” a bad name. In 1 Samuel 8, the prophet Samuel describes what kings actually do. They value power more than anything. They want to keep everything for themselves. They oppress the poor, fight wars, and bring ruin to entire communities. They demand the obedience of others while filling their bank accounts with other people’s wealth. Kings in scripture are not a good thing. Even the kings we celebrate (like King David), have immense personality flaws that lead to their downfall and destruction. All of us think we know what a good king looks like. They are full of power and majesty. They are wise, caring, and give hope to others. They live lives worthy of being in a Disney animated film. And they are a king that looks nothing like Jesus did when, broken and battered, he died on the Cross.

I still call today Christ the King Sunday because that’s a name other people use. But, in my own devotion, I prefer to call today: “Reign of Christ Sunday.” Because that’s what we’re really celebrating. We are, through out baptism, called to live as if Jesus really matters. We are to recognize his love for us and love others just as much. We are to celebrate service rather than power and to always cling to hope. We are to live as if Christ truly rules over our lives because, through the Cross, we know he already does.

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 Christ the King Sunday, 11/26/2017.