High Expectations. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, Summer 2018 Edition

I recently experienced something rare: I attended a wedding and I didn’t officiate. Over the last few years, my wedding excursions included rehearsal dinners, writing sermons and pre-martial counseling sessions. This time, however, my only expectation involved tearing up the dance floor. As I sat there in the pews, waiting for the ceremony to start, I realized that

every wedding comes with different types of expectations. Sometimes we are intimately involved with the planning and decision-making. Other times, we’re a member of the bridal party, watching our good friend say “I do.” Occasionally we’re asked to just join in the celebration. Whether we realize it or not, weddings

are filled with expectations. There are the expectations we bring to the big day, like knowing the ceremony will start late and that the lines for bacon-wrapped appetizers will be incredibly long. But weddings also expect us to act, pray and celebrate in specific ways too. A maid-of-honor is expected to give a toast, and the flower boys and girls are expected to throw their flowers in the right spots. A wedding includes more than just the expectations of the wedding couple and their families. Weddings have expectations for all of us.

In a similar way, churches have expectations too. But to notice them, we need to remember that a church is more than a building. A church is the assembly: the people gathered in Christ’s name. When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Romans, he wrote to people. These small groups of disciples met in private homes since no official church buildings existed. The church was (and is!) the people who are brought together by the Spirit to follow Jesus. This following requires faith. It requires grace. And, it also requires changing out expectations because we’re more than a group of people who hang out together. When we come together, Jesus promises to show up with us. This promise isn’t pretend or abstract. Jesus’ promise to each of us, and to the

church, is very real. As people bounded to each other by our baptism and our faith, we are expected to be more than just mere acquaintances. Jesus expects us to be His church, together.

This expectation manifests in different ways. You’re expected to meet with your fellow disciples of Jesus on Sunday morning if you are well and able. If Sunday morning doesn’t work for you, then the entire community must do the work to create a new gathering at a different time and place. You’re also expected to keep the community in your prayers, especially the people we name on out loud on

Sunday morning. You might not know what they need prayers for but don’t worry: God knows. You’re expected, as a member of Christ’s church, to financially support the community in a very intentional way. And finally, you’re expected to make a difference in our neighborhood and in our world through our collective ministry or in another meaningful way. These expectations can be challenging but they exist so that our faith can be more than something that lingers in the back of our minds. Faith’s expectations for us are how others will see what Jesus has done for us. In other words, Jesus’ expectations are how we love – and this is the kind of love that will transform us into something brand new.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

Bigger Than Ourselves. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, June 2018 Edition

15. 1500. 30,000. What do these three numbers have in common? They show how we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

June is a month where we will celebrate just how connected we are. When Jesus claimed us in our baptism, he did more than connect us to himself. He united us with everyone else whom he claimed as his own. Our faith is designed to be a team sport. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. We need others to pray for us. We need others to support us. We need others to love because Jesus loved us first. We are called to be people who connect, forming a community that is even bigger than Christ Lutheran Church’s walls.

On June 3rd, we will hold a special congregational meeting to discuss what it takes to be a community of faith. We’ll have one worship service at 9:30 am. Our congregational meeting will take place immediately after. After the meeting, we will then bless our Genesis Garden. The Genesis Garden is in its 33rd year. Together, we will raise over 1500 lbs. of fresh produce to donate to the Center for Food Action in Englewood. When we work together, we make a real difference. On June 10th, Lutheran youth (8th grade and up) from around Northern New Jersey will attend our 9:00 am worship. Afterwards, they’ll share brunch and go for a hike nearby. The first meeting of this new initiative met in May at Calvary Lutheran in Allendale. Youth from CLC had a great time, even discovering classmates at their schools who were Lutherans, just like them. We can’t wait to welcome these amazing kids to CLC. On June 17th, we’ll honor all graduates as we start our summer worship schedule. We’re proud of everyone who completed their schoolwork and are now taking that next step in their lives. And finally, on June 24th, we’ll host our annual Blessing of the Animals. We’ll worship in the Opsal (Fellowship) Hall. All critters, large and small, are welcome to attend. If your pet friend doesn’t like large crowds, feel free to bring a picture (even if it’s on your phone), and I’ll say a blessing over it. We’ll also celebrate our youth and adults who will be attending the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston where over 30,000 people will gather for worship, service and fun.

This is a month where we will connect as a community. This is a month where we will see how we can do so much when we are together. I can’t wait to see you as a part of it.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

Porous to the Holy Spirit. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, May 2018 Edition

Clint Ramos is an acclaimed Tony Award winning costume and set designer on Broadway. He worked on Violet, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweet Chariot and Once on This Island. When we’re watching a play or a musical, we don’t always think about the set or costumes that much. They set the tone for what we’re watching, but we turn our attention on the acting, singing and dancing. We act as if the set and costumes are secondary in the show itself. We walk away from the show saying “that was a neat set” and nothing more. In a recent interview, Clint was asked what he wished the audience might take away from his work. And he answered in an interesting way.

The set and costumes do more than set the tone for the show. The costumes and set are the first things that draw us into the event. Every button on an actor’s blouse and brick on a fake backdrop wall are designed to draw the audience deeper into the story. The set and costume designer use their talents to draw the audience deeper into the story on the stage. And by bringing the audience into the story, the designers end up uncovering our personal stories and the story of the world beyond the walls of the theater. The set and costumes are clues inviting the audience to look around and see everything in a new light. Clint’s only wish is for the audience, for those of us sitting in the seats, to be “more porous to those clues” that are all around them.

Imagine, for a moment, if we looked at our faith in the same way. What if we were more porous to noticing the God that is always with us? Look around you. In the set that is your everyday life, how are you being drawn deeper into Jesus’ story?

I tend to read my copy of The Messenger in my kitchen. I don’t always think about how my dishwasher, the pile of dirty dishes in my sink and my dinged coffee grinder can reveal Jesus to me. But the God that created the universe is the same God who is living with you. The sets we build, our homes, offices and school lockers are places where God is truly present. We might struggle to see God in those places but maybe that can be changed.

What’s one small thing you could do to make the room you’re in right now show God’s love a little more clearly? Is there something you need to add or something you need to take away? Whatever you do, remember that Jesus is right there with you—but we can sometimes get in our own way when we try to see him.

This May, spend time helping yourself be more porous to the clues of love that God is always sending you. And let’s re-design the sets in our lives to help us see God more clearly.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

The Off Season. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, April 2018 Edition

Have you ever been some place “off-season?” The times I’ve visited places before they get busy, I’ve always been struck how the energy in the air feels different. There’s a quietness that seems to fill much of the space. This quiet never feels unpleasant. Instead, it feels like the deep calming breath the entire community takes before the large number of people arrive. That deep calming breath requires a peace and simplicity that gives everyone time to prepare for what’s to come. Restaurants and shops have shorter hours and smaller menus. Artisans and entertainers rehearse their craft in an intentional but gentle way. The few visitors that find themselves in these “off-season” places are invited to embody the slower pace, quieting their soul and mind in preparation for the busyness to come. The “off-season” is a perfect time to refresh, recharge and experience familiar places in new ways. And when we engage with places during their off-season, we sometimes surprise ourselves by learning something new about what refreshes our heart, mind and soul.

The Sundays after Easter can sometimes feel like an “Off-Season” for the church. After all the busyness and excitement of Lent, Holy Week and Easter, many of us feel like we could use a break. Lent sometimes feels like a long inhale preparing us for the exhale of Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. When the Sunday after Easter comes along, we feel worn out and just tired. But Easter is more than just one day. As a faith community, we experience Easter as an entire season. The Sundays after Easter invite us to re-experience the risen Jesus in our lives. When Jesus’ earliest disciples discovered the empty tomb, their faith wasn’t all figured out. They still needed time to discover what living with a resurrected Jesus was all about. The time they spent with Jesus after the Resurrection was an opportunity to connect with the Jesus they always knew but who they now encountered in a new way. They needed to see Jesus in the garden, meet him in a locked room, break bread with him while meeting him on the road, and eating brunch with him on the beach. The season of Easter invites us to refresh and recharge with a Jesus who is always with us, even when we feel like we could use a break.

And this season at CLC will be filled with a baptism, hymn sing and a joint worship service with First Congregational Church and Pascack Reformed Church. See Jesus in this “off-season” and discover new ways to be recharged.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

Learning New Songs. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, March 2018 Edition

Memorizing song lyrics is not one of my spiritual gifts. If you asked me to recite the lyrics to my favorite songs, I would be embarrassed by how many of the words I would get wrong. When I am at a show, standing on the floor and watching one of my favorite bands play, the lyrics to their songs flow through me. But once the show is over, it’s like I never heard those songs before. Lyrics do not stay at the forefront of my mind. Rather, the entire experience of singing – from the music to the lyrics to whom I’m singing with – is how I hold onto this event. I need the music to recall the lyrics and the lyrics to recall how the song made me feel and the emotions from the song to help me remember the music. Songs, to me, are events that are hard to separate.

You might have noticed in worship that new music is entering into our rotation. David Scance is doing a wonderful job finding new contemporary music to introduce to the 9:00 am service. At the 10:30 am worship, we’ve intentionally been repeating hymns every week. The one verse we sing when we bring the bread and wine to the altar is repeated for a month, helping us rehearse a new piece of music. After that, the song is repeated all year long. The hymns we have picked at 10:30 am are hymns written by Martin Luther. Some of these songs might be familiar to you; others might be brand new. These new songs are invitations to discover God’s grace in a new way. New words and new tunes can help us see God’s love for us anew.

The month of March this year is a month that is hard to separate. For 31 days, we are in Lent. The songs of Lent from “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” to “Ah, Holy Jesus” will carry us into the Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Lent is an opportunity to see ourselves and our God in a new way. Let’s see if the words we sing, even new ones, can help us discover and embody God’s grace in a new way.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

Start With Love. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, February 2018 Edition

It’s overwhelming picking the right Valentine’s Day card. Selecting the right card (or cards) needs to follow several rules. The card needs to match the personality of the person I’m giving it to but it also needs to be a card they would expect to come from me. The card needs to set the right tone, convey the right words, and show the person I am giving it to that they are valued. It needs to be funny but not too funny. It needs to be quirky but not too quirky. And it needs to fit my budget. These rules apply for any card I’m buying, including the cards my kids want to give out to their friends at school. I need to know my kids but also their classmates. I need to know what’s cool and I need to ask a bunch of questions. Are stickers still fun? Should they glow in the dark or be scratch and sniff? Are temporary tattoos worth giving out or should I stick with candy? Or many they should avoid candy because I throw out all the candy my kids bring home anyways? Choosing a Valentine’s Day card can be mentally exhausting.

But one thing that requires no effort this Valentine’s Day is the start of Lent. Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. On a day when consumerism turns love into a commodity, the church will do something different. We’ll start our journey towards Easter by starting with what makes us who we are. We are human. We are mortal. We suffer, hurt each other, and shed tears. We laugh, celebrate, and bring each other joy and hope. We make mistakes. We are sinners. And we are, above all, made in God’s image. We are, through Jesus, thoroughly loved.

I know many people who love Valentine’s Day. I know many who don’t. Regardless of how you feel about Valentine’s Day, I invite you to take time on February 14 to remember your need for God and how, through Jesus, you are loved forever. Worship with us on February 14 at 7 pm. Keep an eye on our calendar for special ash-oriented events that day. And make a plan to participate in our Soup & Studies starting February 21. We will explore why God’s love for us matters and how, through scripture and Martin Luther’s On Freedom of a Christian, we can live out God’s love every day.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

I sometimes do weddings: September 2017 edition

Last September, I was honored to preside over Jen and Adam’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and event. Below is a video and pictures of me in action. A big thank you to Danfredo Photos + Films for the video and film.

jennifer + adam // the roundhouse from Danfredo Photos + Films on Vimeo.

Photo by Danfredo Photos + Films (www.danfredo.com)
Danfredo Photos + Films (www.danfredo.com)
Danfredo Photos + Films (www.danfredo.com)
Danfredo Photos + Films (www.danfredo.com)
Danfredo Photos + Films (www.danfredo.com)
Danfredo Photos + Films (www.danfredo.com)

New Voices. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, January 2018 Edition

As I write this, the first snowfall of the season is on the ground outside. The roadways and parking lots are clear but patches of snow are still on the grass. In places that get a lot of sun, no snow remains. But in parts that are shaded by buildings and trees, the snow is still thick on the ground. The sun is bright, melting all the snow on our new roofs. But the air is still cold. The snow in the shade has no desire to melt and go away. The world outside is caught between two zones: one that looks like winter and one that looks as if winter is still far away. But the rest of us, those who have to live and move between these two zones, we have to wear our snow boots or zig and zag around the piles of snow. Navigating between different kinds of realities is, sometimes, what life is all about.

Each week, ELCA Lutheran pastors in Bergen County, Passaic County, Essex County and Morris County meet for Bible study and fellowship. We talk about our communities, our joys, our struggles and how we see the Holy Spirit at work in our churches. And over the last year, we are hearing people wanting new ways to engage with their faith outside of Sunday morning. There’s a desire for study, prayer, and worship at different times and in different places. For some of us, the busyness of our lives means we can only feed our faith late at night, once the kids are in bed. For others, a late Saturday night work schedule means worship on Sunday morning is hard to get to. The ELCA pastors in Northern New Jersey want to help you engage in your faith everyday but in a way that complements your lifestyle in such a way that you will be able to do it. If you want to get into a routine of daily prayer, we want to help you do that. If you want to discover new ways of teaching bibles stories to your kids, let’s figure out how to do that together. And if you’re looking for Lutheran Christian perspectives on everyday life, we can provide that. But to do all of this, we need your help.

If you had a magic wand and could dream up something to grow your faith, what would it be? Are you looking for something to listen to on your daily commute? Would you like to attend a weekly spiritual meditation session run by a trained professional? Are you looking for a deeper sense of fulfillment and wonder if a spiritual life coach might help you find your way? Can you commit to weekly worship on a day other than Sunday? And if you can’t get to church on Sunday, would you love to have someone come to your home and watch a recording of the service with you? Email me (pastormarc@clc4u.com), call the church office (201-391-4224) or leave a note in my mailbox with your idea. There’s no one single program or resource that will feed everyone’s faith. What works for you might not work for your neighbor and vice versa. But we can, through our collective network of Lutheran churches and ecumenical partners, discover and develop the tools that can make this New Year a year where our experience of our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ grows by leap and bounds.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

500 Plus. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, October 2017 Edition

On Sunday, October 29, we’re doing something new . . .

This October marks the 500th birthday of the Reformation. Legend has it that Martin Luther wrote 95 thoughts about faith, Jesus and the church (The 95 Theses) and posted them to a church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Scholars debate if this posting actually happened, but we know his words didn’t stay local. His writings spread like wildfire. In a few short years, a new church movement took root, launching new Christian traditions. As Lutherans, the Sunday before October 31st is our annual “birthday party” where we celebrate this Lutheran flavor of the Christian faith that God gifted to us. But our experience of the Christian faith is not the only tradition out there. We are surrounded by Baptists, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Reformed, Church of Christ and more. Each one can trace their start and growth to these 95 thoughts about faith and God. For almost 500 years, the story of Christianity has been reflected in the ways we split apart. As individuals and communities who experience God in different ways, we sometimes separate from each other. Christian history can be described as a history of division. But there’s also a history of unity and coming together. On October 29th, heirs to the Reformation will worship at Christ Lutheran Church.

Pascack Reformed Church and First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) will join us for worship at our church at 10:00 am. A joint choir will sing, and we’ll give thanks for the variety of gifts God gives each of our communities. We’ll celebrate our shared history and also our joint witness as churches who are different but united in Jesus Christ. As communities of faith, we are grateful for the different identities the Holy Spirit has given to each of us. As part of the body of Christ, we are grateful that our differences do not divide us from Jesus. I invite you to be at this joint worship service at 10:00 am on Sunday, October 29th. And let’s discover where the Spirit is leading us in the next 500 years.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc