Entrusting the Faith. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, June 2017 Edition

At our last Confirmation class for the 2016-2017 year, Pastor John Holliday of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Old Tappan shared something I want to share with you. For the last year, we have partnered with Prince of Peace Lutheran Church to teach Confirmation. Kids from Prince of Peace and Christ Lutheran Church talked about faith, Jesus and learned from each other. When we met for our last class this year, Pastor Holliday shared how Confirmation is more than just education. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we’re giving these 7th and 8th graders a job to share Jesus with the next generation.

At first glance, this seems like we’re asking 7th and 8th graders to bring their kids to church if being a parent is where God leads them later in their lives. That’s true but being a parent and passing on our faith to children isn’t the limit to what the Holy Spirit is doing. The next generation of faith-filled Christians is anyone who hasn’t experienced Jesus in their life. This can be a friend who doesn’t go to church or an older family member who doesn’t know who God is. This next generation can be the newborn baby who is coming to church for the first time and also their parents who never grew up in a faith community. The next generation isn’t defined by age. The next generation is defined by the people, old and young, who are going to meet Jesus. And it’s this relationship with Jesus that brings us into a church community where Jesus’ promises show up. In the Rite of Confirmation, the church does something amazing. We affirm that these amazing youth, Brendan, Connor and Josette, are already the church. Since their birth, Jesus has loved them. Since their baptism, God has made them leaders in this community. And now, through Confirmation, we entrust to them the calling God gives to each of us: to share the faith, to live our faith and to help others discover the love Jesus has for each of them.

As we gear up for a busy June, we continue to be a community committed to making a difference, physically and spiritually, in our community. On June 4th, we will confirm three youths at our 10:30 am worship. I invite you to come to worship on that day. On June 11th, we’ll bless our Genesis Garden after the 10:30 am service as we enter our 32nd year feeding our neighbors in need. On June 18th, our summer schedule starts with one service at 9:30 am. We’ll honor our graduates and host a special congregational meeting at 10:30 am to give all an update on some property projects the church will need to address. And then, on June 25th, we’ll hold our annual blessing of the animals. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are entrusted to live out our faith and to pass it on to people who need to know God’s love for them. Let’s keep doing that hard work all summer long.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

It’s Gonna Be Maaaayyy. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, May 2017 Edition

I am a fan of bad puns and silly jokes. And that’s why April 30th is special to me. For the last few years, I’ve shared the same internet meme on my social media accounts. It’s a picture of Justin Timberlake during his days in NSYNC. He’s smiling and singing their hit song “It’s Gonna Be Me.” But the caption on the picture has nothing to do with the word “me” because Justin’s changes the words. He turns “me” into a long, vibrato filled version of “maaaaaayyyyyy.” On April 30th, we know that “It’s gonna be maaaaaayyyyyy.”

My guess is you’ve just let out a large groan and probably a fake laugh. Those are always the right responses to a terrible pun and a silly joke. Yet, this meme is telling the truth. It really is going to be May. May is a special time at Christ Lutheran Church because of the amazing programs and events you support with your time, donations and prayers. On May 6th hundreds of people from around New Jersey and New York (last year, we had visitors from as far away as the eastern end of Long Island) will attend our Trash & Treasure sale. Our neighbors who can’t afford a new outfit for work or toys for their children will be able to find the item they need to better their lives and their families. The volunteers who spent hours sorting clothes, cleaning glassware, and making sure everyone is fed with great meals, will help our guests find what they are looking for. The thousands of dollars raised will be used by the CLC-Women’s Group to fund projects at church and charities all over the world. Trash & Treasure is one way we use what God gives us to share God’s love all over the world. Thank you for your donation and being part of this amazing event.

May is also a time when we prepare our congregation to change in new ways. This year, we’re confirming three young people on Pentecost (June 4). These amazing kids and their families have made an impact in our community since they first walked through the doors. The entire congregation will empower them to be full voting members of the community. They will have the power to serve on council, vote at our meetings and continue to make a difference locally and all over the world. The Holy Spirit is with us no matter how old we are. It will be amazing to watch where the Spirit takes all of us through their leadership and voices.

For much of April, we watched as flowers bloomed, grass turned green and leaves began to sprout. With the change of seasons, we witness a new creation being born. This April, we were there for Easter and saw how Jesus changed the world. Now is the time to discover what this new creation is all about. Let’s see what God is blooming in our community because it’s going to be May.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

I Met a Sitting US Senator

The Adult Choir and Music Director at my church is the NJ State Teacher of the Year. On Sunday she was recognized by Senator Bob Menendez at an event in honor of Evangelina Menendez (the Senator’s mother) and Women’s History Month. I was invited to the VIP reception before the ceremony. It was my first time talking to a sitting US Senator face-to-face.

They also caught me in my natural pose.

Photos provided by the office of Senator Bob Menendez.

A Pastoral Letter Condemning Antisemitism

ELCA Clergy throughout the region composed and signed a joint letter condemning antisemitism. We printed it in our bulletin on March 26, 2017. I drafted the initial letter. My colleagues (including a Jewish Rabbi) refined the language.

In 1994, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pledged “to oppose the deadly working of [antisemitism], both within our own circles and in the society around us” (Declaration of ELCA to Jewish Community). Now that our Jewish neighbors have once again become the victims of antisemitic threats and vandalism, we are instructed by our Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, “to speak out, to reach out, to show up, and to root out this deadly bigotry” (Letter to Pastors, dated February 22, 2017).

As Lutheran Christians, we confess our own history of antisemitism. We are implicated in the history of anti-Judaism spanning the history of the Christian faith, and in the memory and heritage of Martin Luther and his “anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings” (Declaration of ELCA to Jewish Community). It is in this spirit of truth telling that we acknowledge our truth while, at the same time, point to the wider truth of God’s love for all of God’s people. The violent invectives of our past should not be the reality of the present or our future. We are inspired by our Christian faith in a God who becomes incarnate and moves closer to us to save us, despite our flaws and sin, and thus free us to move closer to others in fellowship and solidarity. As Christians, we are called to be “ambassadors of hope in the face of despair” (letter dated February 22, 2017) as a faithful response to the love of God in Jesus and to our call to love all our neighbors.

Therefore, we, the undersigned pastors of Lutheran churches of the ELCA, serving or supporting congregations in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Rockland counties, condemn antisemitism in the strongest possible terms. No Jewish person, institution, house of worship, or cemetery should be threatened with hate or violence. Bomb threats directed at over 100 Jewish Community Centers and Day Schools (including Tenafly and Paramus) and the vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester are deplorable acts. The rise in the use of swastikas and other Nazi imagery is abhorrent. Our condemnation of this violence and all antisemitic speech, threats, and actions is unequivocal. We will continue to speak out and confront the evil of antisemitism in our communities. We will stand alongside our Jewish neighbors, institutions, and places of worship. We call upon our elected local, state, and national leaders to repudiate all expressions and acts of antisemitism. We will continue “to work for the end of systemic racism and discrimination” so “all people in our communities, regardless of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity…may flourish” (A Pastoral Post Election Letter from Northern NJ Clergy, dated November 23, 2016).

Signed:

The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, Pompton Plains
The Rev. Hayley Bang, Paramus
The Rev. Arnd Braun-Storck, Elizabeth
The Rev. Carol Brighton, Ramsey
Deacon Abby Ferjak, Ridgewood
The Rev. Julie Haspel, Oakland
The Rev. Peggy Hayes, Dumont
The Rev. John Holliday, Old Tappan
The Rev. Lisa Holliday, New Milford
The Rev. Michael Linderman, Ramsey
The Rev. Jenny McLellan, Allendale
The Rev. Jeff Miller, Clifton
Vicar Paul Miller, Ramsey
The Rev. Will Moser, Montclair
The Rev. Robert Mountenay, Wayne
The Rev. Peggy Niederer, Teaneck
The Rev. Scott Schantzenbach, Oxford
The Rev. Joseph Schattauer Paillé, Wyckoff
The Rev. Wes Smith, Saddle River
The Rev. Roger Spencer, North Haledon
The Rev. Beate Storck, Tenafly
The Rev. Marc A. Stutzel, Woodcliff Lake
The Rev. Stephen Sweet, River Edge
The Rev. Ignaki Unzaga, Glen Rock
The Rev. J. Lena Warren, Pearl River, NY

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

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

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

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

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

#IStandWithTheJCC Rally

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

Save the ACA: In the Background

On February 25, the family and I attended a local SAVE THE ACA rally at the Bergen County Court House. We didn’t bring a sign but I did wear my collar. K has a nice image of all the signs. Several people in my community rely on the ACA for medical care. 50,000 people in Bergen County will lose their health insurance if the ACA is repealed and not replaced with something that has similar coverage. My faith compels me to desire and do what I can so all have health insurance. I’m in the background of a few of these shots. Next time, I’ll make a sign.

The Life-Changing Magic of Lent. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, March 2017 Edition

I typically need to remind myself that there is a blessing in having stuff. When I step on a Lego with my barefoot, trip over the corner of a misplaced ottoman or bang my head on a ceiling lamp that is too low, I want to throw everything away. But having stuff is a problem I’m blessed to have. Too many people in our world and in our neighborhood do not have the stuff I have. Many spend their months trying to decide which bill to pay, which meal to skip or how they can make their old car last longer. Having stuff means I have resources at my disposal that others do not have. But it also means I run the risk in having stuff overwhelm, distort, and disrupt my life, relationships and spirituality.

As I prepare to lead a mid-week Lenten series on the Small Catechism, I have been reading books on decluttering. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Ruth Soukup’s Unstuffed, Stuffocation, Spark-Joy, A Decluttering Handbook for Creative folks, and The Joy of Leaving Your Stuff All Over the Place, are on my nightstand. Each book promises that we have the power to gain order and control over our lives. We can, through certain acts and habits, clear the clutter from our homes, relationships and soul. By looking at what we have, we can see ourselves more clearly.

When Luther put together The Small Catechism, he was offering parents and heads of households an opportunity to look at what they have. They, and we, have Jesus. Through the Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, the sacraments and prayers, entire families could discover Jesus’ love for them and how Jesus’ love changes everything. This Lent we’re going to see how the The Small Catechism is more than just a book we teach to teenagers. It’s a way to discover Jesus and live out our faith in a very real way.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc

Invocation and Benediction for an Eagle Court of Honor

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

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

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

Amen.

Benediction
Dear God,

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

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

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

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

Amen.