In the news: Churches mark 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation

This is a copy of a news article I appeared in on October 30, 2017.. It celebrates a joint worship service with First Congregational in Park Ridge, Christ Lutheran Church, and Pascack Reformed Church to honor the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. My picture appeared on the cover of the local section in the Record. Article by Michael W. Curley, Jr. Photo by Mitsu Yasukawa. Includes video!

Luther’s break from the Catholic Church started the Protestant movement as others followed suit, resulting in numerous denominations splitting from what was at the time the only Christian church.

The various denominations of Christianity are still related after the Reformation, often referred to as a schism within the church, Stutzel said. Even though they each approach their faith differently, he said, the denominations are more similar than they are different.

“Over the last 200 years or so, the Lutherans in this country, mostly, not all of us, have had experiences where we’ve started joining together instead of splitting apart. We’ve been really acting on joining together,” he said. “There’s a movement to celebrate what’s common to us.”

As different faiths have often used arguments on faith to remain separate, Sunday represented “something strange,” Stutzel said, likening the shared service to Luther’s habit of inviting many different people to his home for dinner to talk with them.

“We’re a united and uniting church,” Suriano said. “So we’re very interested in joining together with other churches from the inception of our denomination.”

The pastors said they have been working toward bringing their congregations together since they each came to their churches in the last three years, including a joint Cross Walk around Easter.

They decided to make events out of the fifth Sunday of a month into special events, and with Reformation Sunday and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation falling on a fifth Sunday, it made an obvious choice to kick off the practice.

“Our motto is, ‘reformed and always reforming,’ so we’re always looking for new ways to connect, have a relationship with God, a relationship with others,” Romero said. “We think that we can still be together and connected in all the ways that we have in common.”

The Seed of it All: forgetting and remembering

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (June 11, 2017) on Matthew 28:16-20. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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

What’s the last thing you forgot? I…don’t remember. I’m sure, if you asked my kids or my spouse or checked my email inbox which is my default to-do list, I’m sure you’d find the last thing I forgot to do. But when we frame forgetting in this way, we make forgetting seem like it’s only about a promise we broke or it’s something that happened when the busyness of life got in our way. But forgetting is more than that. Forgetting can feel like we’ve lost something. This week I stumbled on an article from the New Yorker written by Kathryn Schulz with the title “When Things Go Missing.” It’s an essay that starts in Portland in the summer when suddenly, according to Kathryn, everything “fell out of place.” She writes:

My first day in town, I left the keys to [my] truck on the counter of a coffee shop. The next day, I left the keys to the house in the front door. A few days after that, warming up in the midday sun at an outdoor café, I took off the long-sleeved shirt I’d been wearing, only to leave it hanging over the back of the chair when I headed home. When I returned to claim it, I discovered that I’d left my wallet behind as well….later that afternoon I stopped by a sporting-goods store to buy a lock for my new bike and left my wallet sitting next to the cash register. I got the wallet back, but the next day I lost the bike lock. I’d just arrived home and removed it from its packaging when my phone rang; I stepped away to take the call, and when I returned, some time later, the lock had vanished. This was annoying, because I was planning to bike downtown that evening, to attend an event at Powell’s, Portland’s famous bookstore. Eventually, having spent an absurd amount of time looking for the lock and failing to find it, I gave up and drove the truck downtown instead. I parked, went to the event, hung around talking for a while afterward, browsed the bookshelves, walked outside into a lovely summer evening, and could not find the truck anywhere.

Even on our best days, we’re forgetting something. One insurance company claims that we misplace nine objects every single day. That means, by the time [we’re] [Marcus is] sixty, [we’ll] [he’ll] have lost up to two hundred thousand things. Now, we mostly find the things we lose. But looking for things takes time. When you add up all the time we will spend in our lives looking for things we’ve lost, we’ll spent almost six months looking for our keys and wallets. We’re good at losing things because we’re good at forgetting. But we shouldn’t limit forgetting to just losing things. Forgetting can also be heartbreaking. I’ve witnessed an illness causing someone to forget their own name. I’ve been at the bedside of people who forgot how to speak English and instead, started speaking Spanish and Swedish and all these other languages they hadn’t spoken since they were six. Many of us have parents or siblings or loved ones who have forgotten who we are and who, at the same time, seem to have lost who they are too. Forgetting can be as simple as asking a friend to call our cell-phone because we have no idea where it is in our house. And forgetting can be as terrifying as losing who we are.

Which is why I struggle with our translation of Jesus’ last words in the gospel according to Matthew today. Jesus, after his death on the cross, after his resurrection, and after he has spent time showing his followers that the brokenness of this world is not the final chapter God has planned for us, Jesus makes one more public statement. He gathers his friends on a mountain top because, in Matthew, that’s where important things happen. Some of his followers are excited to be there. Others…don’t really know what’s going on. Even though Jesus is right in front of them, some of his friends doubt. But Jesus pulls them all together because he has one more thing to say. In a few short sentences, Jesus explains who he is. Jesus gives his followers a list of things to do. And then he ends on a word of promise, a promise that our translation today begins with the words: “And remember…”

Now, there is something powerful about remembering, especially during difficult times. When life is hard, we can remember that Jesus lived and died for you not because you are perfect but because Jesus loves you. Jesus is there with you while your heart breaks because his heart is breaking too. That’s… who Jesus is. But the words, “And remember…” can also be a tad terrifying because it seems as if Jesus is giving us a task to do that we’re not always cut out for. I mean, I have literally forgotten where I have put my shoes. And I have sent texts to my spouse, telling her to bring the plastic collar I wear around my neck, this collar that signifies my role as a pastor, because…I forgot it and left it at home. Jesus is asking an awful lot of us when he asks us to remember because there are times when we won’t. There are times when we can’t. And there are times when we’re experiencing so much joy and so much sadness that Jesus will be the last thing on our minds. When we take a step back and look at our entire life of faith, it’s easier to talk about what we’ve lost rather than what we remember because losses linger. Loved ones die. Friends move away. Relationships end. We lose our jobs, our sense of stability, and our bodies no longer work the way they use to as we get older, ill, and frail. As Kathryn Schulz writes further in her article, “We lose things because we are flawed; because we are human; because we have things to lose.” I’m not sure Jesus should rely on our ability to remember because forgetting and loss is sometimes all we have.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is doing in these last verses from Matthew. The Greek word that our translation translates as “Remember…” isn’t usually used in that way. Instead, it’s an interjection. It’s a shout. It’s the same word that announces the sudden appearance of an angel and lets us know that Jesus’ friends freaked out when the prophets Moses and Elijah showed up on a mountain. The word really means “Look! See! Hey, over here!” It’s pointing out something that is sudden, exciting, and totally unexpected. It’s a word to that let’s us know that whatever follows it, matters. Jesus doesn’t order his disciples to remember his promises, as if our actions can somehow make these promises true or not. Instead, Jesus is saying: “look! I am with you. I will be with you. And you cannot lose me like you will lose your car keys…or even your memory.” Once God knows us, we cannot stop God from coming to us. Once Jesus claims us in our baptism, we can’t ever stop him from loving us. Our faith and the relationship God has with each of us is too important for God to leave up only to us. Instead, God takes the initiative to claim us, to hold us, and to live with us because God says we are worth more than we will ever know. Our relationship with God doesn’t depend or being with something that we do or rely on whether we can remember who God is. Our relationship depends only on the promises God gives to us – a promise made real in the gift of faith itself. This faith moves us, this faith transforms us, this faith pushes us into the promise Jesus makes here. “Look! See! Hey, this is important.” No matter where we are, or what we do, or where we go – Jesus promises that little Marcus and all of us will never be alone.

Amen.

Play

More than Two Weeks

Chula, late September 2015

It was the day after Columbus Day when I noticed that our home didn’t seem right. As I was getting my kids ready for school, I wandered the house opening closet doors and checking under beds. I checked all the usual spots but I still couldn’t find her. Chula, our cat, is missing.

We believe she snuck out the night before, when we returned home from an evening out. In the transition from inside to outside, the door was left open and she snuck out. She’s only done this once before and it wasn’t for very long. But this time was different. She didn’t come back. We made flyers, put out food, and walked the neighborhood calling her name. We’ve visited the local animal shelters and alerted all the vets and cat rescues in the area. We even turned my iPod touch into a security camera to keep watch during the night. So far, there’s been one probable sighting by our mailmen and we heard cats (possibly) fighting on our front stoop. But that’s it. The food is being eaten by local cats and raccoons. The weather is turning cold and wet. We’ve run out of options and are just waiting to see if she’ll come back.

It’s maddening. Every time I walk by the front door, I look out to see if she’s there. If I can sneak home in between pastoral visits, I stop by to see if she’s sunning on the back porch. I keep hoping for a glimpse.

While this goes on, of course, life goes on as well. There are still kids to get to school, Halloween costumes to order, sermons to preach, and worship services to craft. Life doesn’t stop but it feels different since Chula isn’t there like she use to be. We’ve gone from two lovable pets to zero in a very short time. Let’s see if, by just writing this and putting it out in the atmosphere, maybe she’ll come back from her adventure tonight.

A reflection on Acts 3: who is in and who is out

Today’s first reading is from Acts 3:12-19.

Today’s first reading is a step back in our journey through Acts this Easter season. Last week, we were in chapter 4. Right now, we’re in chapter 3. The disciples are in Jerusalem when Peter and John go to pray in the Temple. While there, Peter sees a man who has never walked and heals him in the name of Jesus. The man leaps and jumps praising God, and clinging to Peter and John in thanksgiving for healing. People are surprised, confused, and wondering what just happened. So Peter responds with our reading today.

One of the core elements in today’s reading is what it means to be part of God’s family. Peter’s words emphasize two things: how God continues to expand who is in Jesus’ group and who isn’t. Now, this can get very dicey and appear to be very black and white. Peter could use this opportunity to reject those who are gathered in the Temple. Even though they share the same identity as Jews, the people at the temple responded to Jesus differently. The disciples proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah while the rest do not. That’s the boundary between who is part of Jesus’ group and who isn’t. Peter could look at those gathered around and reject them. He could say that they rejected Jesus and, in a sense, killed him along with the Roman authorities. Peter could wash his hands of them, condemn them, and say that they have no hope in ever being part of God’s true family.

But Peter doesn’t. Instead, he invites them in because being part of God’s in-group is open to all.

We’ll always struggle with who is “in,” and who is “out.” But God continues to push us to open the group by inviting people into a relationship with Jesus and with us. There’s a risk when we do that. The people who might accept our invitation might not be like us. They might do things differently, enjoy different activities, or speak different languages. They might not even look like us. The ones we invite might change the group and make it different from what it was before. And that’s scary. But that’s God’s call. God’s love invites relationship and communion with everyone. God’s love invites us to grow and change. Peter invited those around him into Jesus’ family, knowingly inviting them to join the Body of Christ and making it shine with the love of God that encompasses all.

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 4/19/2015.

Columbus Circle and Me

Castrol Oil is having a contest giving away 2 Super bowl tickets each day for ten days. The rules require you to take a selfie at 1 of 3 locations that are revealed each morning. The rules are not clear on what actually is an entry (whether each person is allowed 1 selfie or if each posted selfie is an entry or if each post is an entry – even if the selfie was posted previously). After it appeared that multiple submissions of the same picture seem to be allowed (and this strategy might have worked for one of the winners), I was inspired to take this contest to another level. But I didn’t want to post just one photo a million times. Oh no. Instead, I decided to have some fun. One of today’s locations was Columbus Circle. Castrol’s contest inspired me to take over 250 different selfies. My self-facing camera on my iPod touch doesn’t work so it was a tad difficult to take all these pictures. However, I’ve slowly uploaded them to my social media sites all day because, in the end, this .gif is what I wanted to create.

I don’t expect to win, I don’t even like how I look in these pictures, but I created something I’ve never tried before. That counts for something I think.

God’s (Unlikely) Fire: A Pentecost + 2 sermon

Preached at Advent Lutheran Church, NYC on June 2, 2013.
Readings (includes semi-continuous) 1 Kings 18:20-39, Psalm 96, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

I’m preaching on the semi-continuous lectionary reading from First Kings. The Elijah Cycle! Oh yeah!

Don’t want to read? I recorded an audio version as well.

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

Doesn’t the story from our first reading sound like an old fashion, god vs god, throw-down showdown? In the left corner, we have the God of Israel, YHWH, and in the right, we have the storm god known as Baal. This is a perfect thunderdome moment. Two gods enter, one god leaves. And the rules are simple. The prophets from each side will gather together ‚Äì and as Elijah says ‚Äì it is “the god who answers by fire” who “indeed” is “God.”

So that’s how we’re starting our five week exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures ‚Äì of the story of Elijah ‚Äì by answering the question which god ‚Äì Baal or YHWH ‚Äì will send an answer to the people of Israel with fire.

But why the question? And what is this fire that Elijah keeps talking about?

Our reading today has a little back story. It takes place on Mt. Carmel after the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel had split. King Ahab rules the north and Elijah is introduced by going up to the king, looking at him straight in the face, and saying that there will be no rain in Israel ‚Äì that there will be a drought in Israel until God decides otherwise. This, of course, doesn’t make Elijah lots of friends ‚Äì so Elijah runs. He hides ‚Äì and the drought happens. And it goes on. And on. And on. Then, finally, three years in, Elijah emerges from his hiding places, meets Ahab, and gathers the prophets of Baal, the king of Israel, and the entire people of Israel to Mt. Carmel where Elijah throws it down. He accuses the people of Israel of being unfaithful; of wavering; of putting their trust in something other than YHWH ‚Äì and thinking that something or someone or some other god could end this drought. So Elijah calls for a contest and the rules are simple: the prophets of Baal will do their rituals, prayers, and sacrifices and Elijah will do his ‚Äì and the god who answers with fire ‚Äì the god who can send down lighting ‚Äì the god who can actually make it rain and end Israel’s suffering ‚Äì that’s the god that the people should trust; the god they should devote themselves to; the god they should be faithful to. That’s the question here ‚Äì which god can actually help us. And the one that can ‚Äì all they have to do is just make it rain.

So the prophets do what prophets do. The prophets of Baal do their thing. They perform the rituals they know. They say the prayers they’ve been taught. They do everything they can to get Baal to notice them; to notice their suffering; to hear their case. I mean, bringing rain ‚Äì that’s just what a storm god does. Baal should have no problem with this simple task. And all the prophets of Baal need to do is activate their god, switch their god on, get their god to see them. And, they try. They really do. They do everything they know how to do ‚Äì even when Elijah mocks them ‚Äì they don’t stop. They don’t give up. They try everything to activate their god ‚Äì who they trust ‚Äì who they have faith in ‚Äì but it just doesn’t work.

So Elijah starts his rituals ‚Äì but he begins in a different way. He first gathers everyone together. And when they are close he takes 12 stones representing the tribes of Israel and builds an altar, digs a trench, lays down wood, and drowns the wood in water three times. And, as he begins the sacrifice, he does what I think is the most important part of the story ‚Äì he prays ‚Äì and he starts his prayer with these words: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel…”

Did you catch that? Did you notice what Elijah does different here? He doesn’t name God in the usual way. He doesn’t say the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. No, Elijah says Israel ‚Äì the name Jacob was given by God after Jacob spent the night wrestling with the Angel. Israel, the name Jacob was granted after he held onto the angel all night long, refusing to let go even as the day broke and the sun rose into the sky ‚Äì Jacob refused to let go until he was blessed. So the angel blessed him, giving him a new name ‚Äì Israel ‚Äì which means “he who struggles with God.”

That, I think, is the ace in Elijah’s sleeve. In this confrontation with the prophets of Baal ‚Äì he’s actually not confronting Baal. This really isn’t a god vs god boxing match. No, Elijah is doing something different. He’s there reminding the people of Israel who they are ‚Äì who they have been ‚Äì who has claimed them and what their true identity is. And in the reminding, Elijah is not trying to activate God. He’s not trying to get God’s attention. He knows he has God’s attention. He knows that God is paying attention to them because they are the heirs of Jacob ‚Äì they are heirs to being the people who struggle with God ‚Äì who live in relationship with God. This isn’t about saying the right prayer, doing the right dance, or performing just the right kind of good deed to get God’s attention. They are gathered not to activate God but to remember that God has already activated them. God has already given them an identity. God has already named and claimed them. God has already answered them with fire ‚Äì from the burning bush of Moses and the pillar of fire that lead the people as they traveled through Sinai on their forty year journey ‚Äì God has already answered them and continues to answer them. The contest on Mt. Carmel isn’t a real contest. It isn’t a throw-down between two gods. It’s a reminder of what it means to be the people of God and that this God has already acted in their lives ‚Äì in their very identity and history. Elijah is calling them to remember that God has already answered in fire ‚Äì and that they are the witnesses to God’s activity in the world; witnesses to God’s fire; witnesses to God’s answer to the world. They are, in a sense, God’s fire for the here and now no matter how unfaithful, unguided, and wavering they seem to be. They are God’s unlikely fire in the world.

Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Pentecost ‚Äì how the holy spirit descended like a mighty wind through the disciples as they gathered to tell the story of God and Jesus. And as they gathered, tongues of fire appeared over them. Tongues of fire. Tongues of fire so that the story of Jesus ‚Äì the story of the carpenter from Nazareth who traveled throughout Israel, who healed the sick, brought good news to the poor, saw the invisible, ate meals with the unwanted, and died on the Cross ‚Äì that this story could be shared to all, regardless of who they were, where they came from, or what they believed or did. And that’s still our present story ‚Äì our present calling ‚Äì to live out Elijah’s reminder that we gather to remember and witness God’s story and to be bearers of God’s fire into the world. Because our story is not about trying to live a life that gets God to notice us ‚Äì but to live in that place where God has taken a chance on us, in all our imperfections, to be part of God’s answer to the world. The Cross of Christ just doesn’t right our relationship with God ‚Äì the Cross of Christ activates us, gathers us, claims us to be living witnesses to the fact that God actually loves the world. Because we are part of God’s fire. Right here, on the corner of 93rd and Broadway, we’re invited to be like Jacob and live out what it means to struggle with God. We’re invited to share our story, to remind others of our story, and to live as God’s fire in the world. We’re invited to pack a bag of groceries for a neighbor in need or serve a hot meal to a stranger who might not get another meal that day. We’re invited to raise awareness of the maternal cost of racism, to fight malaria in Africa, to advocate against discrimination based on gender identity, and this is just a small sample of what we, as children of God, are invite to do. We’re invited to live out Elijah’s call ‚Äì to live out what it means to be a people who are activated by God rather than who try to activate God. Because that’s the gift of grace ‚Äì that this activation isn’t up to us. No, God has turned us on ‚Äì God has made us fire bearers – and we’re invited to live out God and Jesus’ story on this corner in New York City and throughout the world.

Amen.

Play

2012 Books in Review

So, 2012 was a low book year for me. According to my records, I took on 38 books this past year. While reviewing my book list, I realized I didn’t read a lot that I actually enjoyed. I mean, I read books. I took what I could out of them. But there’s a lot that didn’t blow me out of the water. It was a pretty low book year for me.

Anyways, here are my top reads from the past year.

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
The Obamas by Jodi Kantor
The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament by Gerhard O. Forde
Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad by Dan Zevin

200px-Game_change_book_cover

The Obamas

The Preached God

Dan Gets a Minivan