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.

From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, November 2014 Edition

Generous Thankfulness

As a new face here at Christ, every day is a day full of discovery. In each conversation I learn more about the people that make Christ Lutheran Church the warm and inviting place that it is. I hear stories how personal invitations from family and friends grew our community. Baptisms, marriages, Sunday School, Confirmations and funerals have been avenues of love to those who didn’t have a community to call their own. I hear in Christ Lutheran’s story a story of invitation, hospitality and welcome that does the very rare thing of inviting new people to help us change to more fully live as the body of Christ in the world. There is a generosity here at Christ Lutheran that is boundless, reflecting the boundless grace that God gives us every day.

November is a time when the leaves finish falling from the trees, giant piles of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce from a can are shared, the days are cooler, and when we start to notice the days getting way too short. But as the darkness grows we’re invited to reflect on what God goes. We are a people who proclaim every Sunday that darkness does not win. The light will return. God’s generosity to us is bounded not by our wants but by God’s love which covers us every day. In thankfulness, November is a time to take risks with our own generosity. I invite you to help the Care committee provide food so everyone can share in the Thanksgiving dinner they deserve. I invite you to make a financial pledge to Christ Lutheran, helping us expand our generosity to children, youth, adults, elders and our neighbors whom we haven’t met yet. I invite you to help clean up after our Advent dinner, invite a friend to our movie showcase on November 11, read your bible and take a few minutes out of each day to pray. Even if the only time you have is waiting at a traffic light, I invite you to take a moment and say “Hi” to God. You might just discover how God is inviting you to live generously today.

Pastor Marc