Children’s Sermon: Looking at the world differently

Bring some Halloween Masks. Pulled in from Dollar Store Children’s Sermom.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So in a few days, there’s going to be a big holiday in our area. It’s…Halloween! Do you have your costumes picked out? What are you going to dress as?

Those costumes sound great! I love how you are going to pretend to be those characters. No only do you get to dress up like them, but you might even get to pretend to be like them. So, for example, if you’re Captain America and have an inflatable shield – you can throw it, gently and safely, just like he does. Or if you’re Harry Potter, you can use your magic wand to chase bad guys and enjoy some delicious butterbeer. When we dress up like our favorite characters on Halloween, we don’t just look like them – but we also, sometimes, get to pretend what it’s like to be like them and to see the world around them like they do.

So how do we see the world like our costume characters do? Well – it helps to sometimes have a mask. So I brought some masks that I just happen to have lying around in my house. Show off your masks. Putting on these masks let us see the world in a different way.

In our lesson about Jesus today, we’re going to hear a story about how Jesus helped someone see in a new way. The person was born blind meaning they couldn’t see. However, they knew Jesus was nearby and they asked for Jesus’ help. At first, people told the blind man to stay silent. But he wouldn’t. He kept talking. And so Jesus healed him – and then he could see. Before, he had experienced life in only one way. But, with Jesus, he got to see the world in a new way.

Because of your baptism, because Jesus loves you, and because Jesus is with you always – we get to see the world in a new way. We get to, in a way, get to imagine ourselves wearing a Jesus Mask – seeing the world like Jesus does. So, let’s pretend we’re putting on our Jesus mask. Pretend to put on a Jesus mask. And when we look at ourselves, when we look everyone in the pews, and when we go see everyone at school, in our neighborhood, and in the world – we now get to see them in a new way. We get to see them as Jesus sees them – which means we get to see that everyone everywhere is loved. And since Jesus loves them, we should too.

Thank you for being here! And I hope you have a blessed Halloween!

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 Reformation Sunday/23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 10/28/2018.

Children’s Sermon: Why I’m Served Last

Bring a basket and a little piece of bread.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So today I’d like to talk about something you might see me do when I serve communion here at church. I usually stand behind the altar – as tall as I can so people can see me – and I prepare the meal we’re invited to share. There are a lot of different parts of the communion liturgy – the order we follow. So why don’t we go up to the altar itself and look at different parts of it.

Go up to the altar. Have the kids stand behind and around it. Go through the order briefly:
The items up there.
The prayers.
Words of institution.
The distribution – pass out bread/wine or a blessing.
Then before we clean up – the people who help with communion receive communion.
And at the end of that, the people who help served communion – serve communion to me.

Now if you go to churches, you’ll notice that the pastor might give themselves the wine and bread. Others might do what I do. In my opinion, there’s no right-or-wrong way for a pastor to receive communion. Instead, I invite the people who will communion to serve me – because it’s something important for my faith. It helps remind me that even though I’m the pastor, and I wear these robes, and I stand in the pulpit, and I write sermons, and I serve communion – even though everyone spends a lot of time at worship looking at me – I need Jesus just as much as you do. I’m not the most important thing here – Jesus is. And just like I get to serve you all Jesus – I need to be served Jesus as well. Jesus is something that comes to me – and by having other people serve me – I’m reminded that no matter how important I or others might say I am – I still need Jesus. I still need God’s love. And I need others to help me experience God’s love too.

We sometimes need help. And it’s hard to admit when we need help. We usually have no problem wanting to do everything ourselves. We look at the people around us who maybe are older, or taller, or able to do things we think we can do to – and we wonder why we can’t. So we try to pretend that we don’t need help – that we don’t need other people – and that’s how we’re supposed to live. We’re supposed to do things on our own – everything – and if we can’t, then there must be something wrong with us. But Jesus is going to tell us that since we are baptized – since we are part of Jesus himself – and since he is with us, always – we get to take care of each other. We get to see how the people around us are suffering – if they’re sad or hungry or whatever – and we get to help them. We get to love each other because Jesus, no matter what, always loves us – even before we ever heard or understood the name Jesus. But it sometimes hard to take care of each other if people don’t know we need help. We might always want to do everything ourselves – but the strongest, most grown up, most loving, and sometimes most difficult thing we can do is ask each other for help. When we’re sad, when we’re struggling, when we can’t quite figure things out – asking for help is a hard thing to do but it’s an important thing to do. Because none of us can do everything on our own. We all need each other to help us because God gives each of us special talents and abilities to take care of each other. And it’s through other people that we experience Jesus’ love and care for us. We need each other. We will take care of each other. And we can help live the way Jesus wants us to if we learn how to always, no matter what – and no matter how silly it might make us feel – to ask for help.

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 the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 10/21/2018.

Listen! The Life of Faith Isn’t About Being an Insider. It’s about listening.

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles;they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:32-45

My sermon from the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (October 21, 2018) on Mark 10:32-45. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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On Friday, I rolled into Bergen Community College wearing my standard Sunday attire – black shirt, white collar, gray slacks, and pointed shoes. I parked my car, got lost, had to get back into my car to find the right parking lot, parked again, and eventually found my way to the Moses Center. I checked in with the two young congressional staffers at the front desk and walked into a large conference room. I and a bunch of other clergy from Bergen County were invited to have a conversation with Representative Josh Gottheimer at his 2nd Faith Leaders Breakfast. In that room were clergy and religious leaders from the many different faiths that call the 5th Federal district of New Jersey home. There were rabbis, imans, jathedar (jat-hey-daar), priests, pastors, deacons, heads of benevolence organizations, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Indian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, White-Americans, African-Americans, immigrants, and native born citizens eating store bought bagels and drinking hot Dunkin Donut coffee while sitting around some large tables. Rep. Gottheimer wanted each of us to share what our communities were currently seeing and experiencing. So that’s what we did. We talked. The issues we covered included refugees, recent hate crimes, immigration, family separation, health care, opioids, the expansion of divisive political rhetoric, and the unaffordability of Bergen county for poor families, recent retirees, and senior citizens. We weren’t there to workshop ideas or find solutions to the problems affecting our communities. Instead, it was a moment to share our story and discover that our different faith communities were experiencing similar issues. We were there to listen and to be listened to.

Now, listening is how community is formed. When we see that we are being heard, we learn to trust one another. We need the people around us to accept the totality of what makes us who we are – our good and our bad. And if they can’t accept that, then we build barriers to keep ourselves apart. Those barriers can, sometimes, keep us safe. But when they are misapplied, these self-generated borders diminish the humanity of the people around us. The listening that builds connection and community involves more than just hearing words. It requires reading body language, understanding histories, and discovering that our assumptions and experiences do not always apply to everyone else. We have to admit the ways we’ve failed to listen and we have to undo the walls that stop us from listening to those around us. Listening is one of the hardest skills our lives require. And it’s a skill that the disciples, in the gospel according to Mark, rarely display.

It’s probably safe to say that James and John were not really listening to what Jesus had to say today. We are still in the long beginning of Jesus’ climatic journey to the Cross and Jesus has, over and over again, tried to tell his innermost circle the truth about what’s going to happen. He is not, as the disciples hoped, going to initiate a political kingdom that would, through power and violence, establish a new Empire that would rival Rome’s. Jesus’ journey was going to be different. So on 3 separate occasions, Jesus shared that he was going to the Cross. And on those 3 separate occasions, the disciples failed to listen to him. At first, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus but Jesus told him to deny himself and take up his cross. Again, Jesus told them about the Cross but the disciples were too afraid to ask Jesus what he meant. Instead, they argued about which one of them was the greatest. So Jesus pulled them aside, brought the most vulnerable person in his cultural context into their community, and told the disciples to welcome them. And now, after this 3rd statement about what will happen in Jerusalem, James and John decide to interrupt Jesus. They want to be placed on Jesus’ right and on his left when Jesus finally comes into his glory. It’s a bit of an odd request since we know how Jesus’ story turned out. In his moment of glory, two crucified criminals will be on his left and on his right. James and John haven’t really listen to what Jesus has been saying. They saw his miracles, his casting out of demons, and his feeding of pretty much everyone – and these two want to stay close to that. But they articulated their request in a way that actually excluded everyone else. In Jesus’ day, power, prestige, and being the ultimate insider was expressed symbolically by saying what was on your right and left. James and John were not only asking to be close to Jesus but they were, at the same time, filling that space only with themselves. Today’s story doesn’t tell us exactly why they wanted that. James and John do not ask for any special power or secret knowledge or anything that would make them into some-kind of “super” follower of Jesus. But it’s possible that what they wanted was to just be “in.” They wanted Jesus to make them part of the in-crowd – the top two disciples at the popular table in Jesus’ lunchroom. This request was maybe not only about seeking power but more about trying to feel like they truly belong. James and John, after following Jesus all over Galilee and Judea, struggled to understand Jesus’ words because those words seemed centered on separation and loss. Death, we believe, is the way we finally lose each other. And that fear encouraged James and John to do whatever they could to keep Jesus by their side.

It’s normal, I think, to worry about losing Jesus. We carry with us certain expectations and assumptions about what a good faith life is supposed to look like. If we believe the right things, handle ourselves in the correct fashion, and make sure to dot our i’s and cross all our t’s – then our faith will always be secure and our spot in “the good life” will be permanently set. This kind of faith is usually not too hard on us, doesn’t really ask much of us, and is supposed to make everything completely manageable. But then real life happens. And we discover that the life we thought our faith secured is a life that doesn’t really exist. We might find ourselves wondering if Jesus left us or we might decide that since nothing is going right, we’re going to leave Jesus. We assume that the Kingdom of God doesn’t actually include us. We stop listening and, in that moment, forget that Jesus is already listening to us. In today’s reading, Jesus used a standard technique to listen: he took James and John’s request, repeated it back to them, and turned it into a question. They hoped to grab onto Jesus by becoming the ultimate insiders but didn’t realize that Jesus already had a hold on them. Every experience you’ve had, every question you’ve asked, every moment when you forgot about God and every time you thought God forgot about you – Jesus did more than just hear you in all those moments; he listened to you. He saw you. And even when you didn’t love yourself, he loved you. Following Jesus isn’t about trying to be the ultimate faith-based insider. Following Jesus is about trusting that he is for you and that he is with you. Our life of faith isn’t supposed to match our expectations. Instead, our faith knows that listening to God is intimately connected to our being able to listen to each other and to our neighbors. Our sense of belonging grows when we step away from the popular table and take a seat at the bigger, more inclusive one, say in a large conference room or at the table set by our Lord. This life of faith, this listening to God and to each other, is how we, together, live into God’s kingdom. And it’s how we finally believe and trust that we are loved.

Amen.

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Reflection: Buried with the “Rich”

When my great-uncle died, I discovered my mom’s family has a family graveyard plot. It’s located in the middle of an old graveyard covered in tombs, tombstones, statues and monuments. The family plot surprised me because a 12 foot obelisk was erected on it. The obelisk is covered and is overflowing with names to the point where the last few were added on a separate stone so that they can lean against it. Compared to the tombstones around it, this monument is actually pretty modest. But compared to today, it’s a little over the top. Large stones can be a sign of a family’s wealth and status even if they didn’t have much wealth or status. There’s no history in my family of any incredible wealth but that tombstone tells a different story. It’s safe to say that this family plot is located in the “rich” part of that old cemetery. In our context, that is seen as a good thing. But as we see in our first reading, Isaiah 53:4-12, being buried with the rich is a complicated metaphor that we need to unwrap.

This reading from Isaiah is one of the texts described as “The Suffering Servant.” The Suffering Servant was the name given to parts of Isaiah 52-53 in the 19th century. They describe a “servant” who is caught in a cycle of humiliation and exaltation. For our Jewish friends, the servant is typically identified as Israel (or an unnamed one at work in ancient Israel). For Christians, we identify the Suffering Servant as Jesus. In Jesus’ time, Isaiah 52-53 was not considered a prophetic text describing the Messiah (the one who would restore Israel’s power and glory). But once Jesus died and rose from the dead, early Christians saw these texts as one that described Jesus’ life and ministry. The Jewish and Christian interpretation of these texts are different but “both Jews and Christians have seen in their own history, in quite particular ways, the capacity and willingness of . . . God to do something new through suffering” (Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, page 144.) The Suffering Servant texts are poems inviting us to discover the God who is at work in our world. Death, suffering, and vulnerability are not dead ends. We are, through our baptism, living into the new future God is bringing about.

The Suffering Servant is utterly rejected and that rejection continues from life into death. His burial among the rich is a negative thing. The people writing these words viewed the rich as those who took advantage of others. The Suffering Servant “is grouped with despised ones whom the world thinks have succeeded” (page 147). The Suffering Servant is a nobody who is the only one who can break the cycle of violence that exists in our world. But this violence – exploitation, hatred, anger, physical and mental assaults – can’t be broken by force. Violence, according to scripture, only begets more violence. Instead, the Servant, must break this violence by embracing what makes them vulnerable. It’s through weakness that God’s power is made known. Your hurt or weakness isn’t the limit of who you are. God knows you, including what makes you vulnerable, and loves you fully. We don’t know exactly how God’s power will be made real through us. But I trust that we’ll finally see God more clearly when we embrace what we try to run away from: our vulnerability. Then God is inviting us to change.

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 the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 10/21/2018.

God Talk. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, November 2018 Edition

When was the last time you talked God? Jonathan Merritt, a contributing writer to The Atlantic, recently wrote an article for The New York Times (based on his new book Learning to Speak God from Scratch) about the decline of our spiritual vocabulary. He sponsored a survey of 1,000 American adults to see how we talk about our faith, spirituality and God. Here’s a bit of what he found: This study revealed that most Americans — more than three-quarters, actually — do not often have spiritual or religious conversations….More than one- fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year. Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions — either “once or twice” (29 percent) or “several times” (29 percent) in the past year. A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly . . . But here’s the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attend church regularly aren’t faring much better. A mere 13 percent had a spiritual conversation around once a week.

Why are we so afraid to talk about God? There are a lot of different reasons. For some, these conversations create tension or arguments. They sometimes feel “too political.” Others don’t want to appear religious, sound weird or seem like “that person” who is trying to get you to convert. We might feel as if we don’t know enough to share our faith or feel as if talking about our faith is someone else’s job. But it isn’t. As a beloved member of the body of Christ, you have been called to love God and love your neighbor.

One way we love our neighbor is by sharing what’s important to us. If your faith makes a difference in your life, then we should offer that to our friends and family. You don’t need a theology degree to share Jesus. All you need to do is share your story. You might not believe that’s enough when it comes to talking about God but it is. And Jesus believes you can do it.

One way to help us talk about God is to start noticing God at work in the world around us. On the following page, I’ve shared a God bingo-card created by Rev. Sarah Taylor. Take a look at where God is at work in the world – and let us know how you feel it out!

See you in church,

Pastor Marc

Homily for the Wedding of S. and L.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:12-14

My sermon from the wedding of S. and L. on October 14, 2018. Translation from New International Version.

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For me, one of the struggles of Fall is trying to figure out what to put on. The weather is usually a little too warm in the sun but it’s also a little too cold in the shade. Magazines, tv, and our favorite fashionable friends on Instagram try to remind us to dress in layers. But some of us have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out which hoodie or sweater or shawl to wear. I bet many of the folks here spent a good amount of mental energy this week trying to figure out what to put on for today. The dress, tux, and shoes might have been picked up months ago but we didn’t really know what else we’d have to bring. This past week, the weather was all over the place. If your wedding had happened just a few days ago we’d either be sweltering and melting into our expensive shoes or decked out in our finest yellow rain slickers and boots. Yet today has turned out to be a perfect, crisp Fall day. It’s exactly the kind of day you both wished it would be. We don’t need to worry about what extra thing we need to put on. Instead, we get to celebrate what you already bring. And that reminds me of something S.said when I met with you two – a few months ago. As you told me your personal stories, I wanted to hear more than just the details of your individuals lives. I wanted to know how you two are together. And S. said, very simply, that you both, first and foremost, are best friends.

And that’s because you two have already spent a lot of time doing the hard work of putting on love. Love is more than just an emotion. Love is that one thing that affirms and supports and values who we are and who we are becoming. Love opens us to what God is doing in the world and connects us to the special people God is putting in our lives. The three snippets of scripture we just heard comes from letters Paul wrote to small churches scattered all over the Mediterranean. He, liked L. and S., loved to travel – and his journey brought him to places he never thought he’d end up in. These small communities of faith were not perfect. There were squabbles, conflicts, and people who didn’t always get along. So Paul wrote to them over and over again, reminding them of who they are and whose they are. He pointed to their story, to their history, and what made them so beloved. The love you two share invites each of you to become more of who God is calling you to be. Clothe yourselves not only with the amazing outfits you’re wearing today. But, especially with your spouse and in your home, always put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and – especially – patience. And if you can do that, if you can keep clinging to what makes you exactly who you are supposed to be, then whether you’re sweltering, rained on, or facing one of those storms that life will bring your way – you two will keep living out of your love. And that love will always grow.

Jesus’ Stewardship Plan: Giving it all

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10:17-31

My sermon from the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 14, 2018) on Mark 10:17-31. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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What have you loved this week?

Better yet, what have you said “love” to this week?

If a random stranger asked each of us to make a list of every love we said, I’m sure our first attempt would be something presentable. We’d put down the names of our families, our friends, and some random event we saw and enjoyed. The stranger would take a look at our list and probably force us to do it again. We’d have to admit that maybe we didn’t actually say “love” out loud this week and we’d erase the names on the list. Or maybe we’d need to add to it after remembering how many times we said we loved that shirt or song or food or whatever. Some of us hesitate saying the word love while others are a bit more carefree. This inhibition or exuberance around the word love comes from somewhere. In some cultures, boys are told to not say “love” – to reserve it to the point where we might not say it at all. We might have learned this kind of love language from our families, mimicking how often our parents said they loved us or each other. Or we might be very careful with the word love because we’d experienced too much heartbreak. Love is a powerful word. It’s a noun, a verb, an emotion, an action, an experience, a reality, and – according to Scripture – Love is God itself. Yet in the gospel according to Mark, the word “love” appears in only 3 verses. And in two of those verses, Jesus was quoting the Old Testament. So there’s only one place in all this gospel where Mark used the word “love” all on his own. And that happened in our reading today – at verse 21 – when Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him.

I’ve joked in the past that our next church stewardship and funding campaign should be based on these verses from the tenth chapter of Mark. When people ask how much they should give, we could point to verse 21 and then sit down. Instead of asking for a tithe, for just 10% of what we make, Jesus seems to be asking for it all. He continued this theme a few verses later by pointing out how hard it is for those with riches to enter the Kingdom of God. Now, over the centuries, we’ve tried really hard to run away from Jesus’ words in this text. In the middle ages, a theory developed centered on Jesus’ words about a camel and a needle. Some theologians claimed there was a gate in ancient Jerusalem called “the needle,” and that a camel, using funky body positions, could inch its way through it. So if this was right, then those with wealth could enter the kingdom of God but they’d need to be a bit more flexible to make that happen. The problem is that theory is completely work. There was no gate named “the needle” and Jesus really said that it’s easier for a camel – a giant animal – to go through the eye of a sewing needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus’ words here can scare us – so, at times, we’ve turned against the rich young man saying he lied about keeping the law. Or we say he’s too rich, a stand-in for a different wealth class of people we’re not apart of. But that kind of thinking is designed to get us off the hook because we can always imagine someone who is richer than us. My personal trick is to do a close reading of the text, notice that Jesus said to give everything to the poor, and then point to my mortgage and my student loan debt from seminary. We try, as best we can, to manage this text, to make it feel safe. Because, if we have a bed to sleep in, if we know where our next meal is coming from, if we have health insurance, and if we have access to credit, jobs, and other kinds of opportunities – these riches are ones that we don’t want to give to that rich young man. We don’t want to be him. Because we also know that when Jesus showed him, the only person in the entire gospel according to Mark described as being loved – when Jesus showed him how to change his life, he left – sad and full of sorrow.

It’s hard to imagine experiencing Jesus’ love – and then leaving, feeling sad. We don’t want to meet God through prayer, or at Holy Communion, or through the love of our neighbors and have our sense of self torn in two. The rich young man was loved not because he was rich or faithful or because he followed the rules. Jesus just loved him because that’s who Jesus is. That gift of love is something we all want. But it’s a gift that isn’t a commodity that we can store and keep. Rather Jesus’ love is an action, a force, that compels us to discover the truth about who we are. We want to turn Jesus’ love into something we can possess because if we can do that, then we can fit Jesus into the society we’ve already created. People’s worth, we think, is based on what they are allowed to have: whether that’s authority, power, wealth, or status. We’ve defined people by what they possess and those with more are worth more. We act as if life is about accumulating experiences, opportunities, and whatever helps us think we are “self-sufficient.” In other words, we want to earn and grab onto what we imagine eternal life to be. The danger of wealth, of this constant need to possess, is that it can trick us to think we are following God’s rules while we self-justify every divide we create in the world. It’s at that moment when we turn Jesus into a possession instead of a Savior that Jesus finally tells us the truth, undoing the world we’ve built up while showing us something new.

Jesus does more in this passage than tell the rich young man to sell what he owns. Jesus also shows him how to love. We see in Jesus’ own actions and words a formula for what love looks like. In verse 21, Jesus’ response to the rich young man is to look and see him. Jesus, in that moment, sees everything about him – where he comes, where he’s going, and what his entire life looks like. Love can’t be limited to only ourselves. Love compels us to fully see the other – and in that process, connect with them. So after seeing the rich young man, Jesus tells him to sell what he owns so that he can come and follow him. Every one of the actions Jesus highlights points to what love is all about. Love isn’t about gaining a possession. Love is about gaining a relationship with the creator of the universe and, in that process, forming a bond with the world and all the people God loves. We want to split the world and it’s people into groups based on what we think they should possess. Yet Jesus’ love breaks through the dividing lines we draw up, connecting us to each other even though the world wants to keep us apart. Through Christ, we are invited to say “love” to more people than we might, at first, admit. We are called to make that “love” a reality by using the gifts God gave us, including our wealth, to create connections rather than re-entrenching our divisions. And it’s through Jesus where we discover a new way of life that is about more than giving something up. Instead, when we connect with each other, loving people in the same way Jesus first loved us, that’s when we’ll notice that our entire life is finally starting to grow.

Amen.

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Children’s Sermon: What to do with hard texts?

Bring the carrots and other stuff from the Community Garden

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So it was a bit cold this morning, wasn’t it? It finally feels like fall. Leaves are falling from the trees, acorns are falling and making dents on our cars, and we’re starting to wear sweaters and long pants. It’s fall! What are some other things we do to get ready for fall? Accept answers.

Another thing we need to do is, if we garden, is to do our last harvests of the year and clean up the gardens so they’re ready for next year. On Tuesday at 5:30 pm, we’ll clean up our Genesis Garden. We’ll do a final harvest which will let us donate over 1200 lbs of vegetables this. We’ll clean up some tomatoes stakes and more. Everyone is invited to help out – and the more we do, the better it will be when we start the garden again next spring.

Now my family and I have are members of a community garden in the town we live. So in the spring, we got a bunch of different seeds, walked over to the garden, went to our plot, planted our seeds – and…then didn’t really go back. We went back a few times but…uh…I wasn’t very good at being a gardener this year. We had large sunflowers, tomatoes vines that grew everywhere, and pumpkin vines that…almost had pumpkins. I didn’t tend or take care of the garden like I should have. But I knew, since it’s fall, that I needed to go back and clear it out. So I did that on Friday with Oliver and George. And I was surprised what I found.

Because even though I didn’t do a good job harvesting or taking care of the garden, stuff still grew. And I’d like to show you what grew. Show off the super green tomatoes and the carrots.

Now that carrots are special. Most of the carrots I grew were super small. Some grew bigger but most didn’t. When you have carrots, one thing you’re supposed to do is, as they grow, make sure that the carrots have enough space between them. When the carrots are too close together, they’re too crowded and there isn’t enough room to grow. But when you spread them out, thin them out, they can grow nice and big. So if we want them to grow big, we have to visit the garden, weed it, give the carrots the room they need. The carrots will grow without our help – but when we weed, tend them, and get our hands dirty in the garden – they can grow bigger and stronger.

Today, our story about Jesus is going to be a difficult one. Jesus is going to say some stuff that’s hard to understand. He’s going to talk about about a camel, a sewing needle, a rich young man, and saying something like the first will be last and the last will be first. When we first hear Jesus speak, we’re not always sure what he’s saying. And that’s okay. It’s okay if Jesus says something and it makes us feel confused. It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to say “what does this mean?” And when that happens, what we’re called to do is to not run away from what Jesus said – but listen to it again. To read more about it. To engage with it differently. We’re called to be active – to engage with Jesus’ words – knowing that it will take time to hear clearly what Jesus is telling to us. And that’s okay. Because when we’re active with our faith – when we go to Jesus – when we pray and listen to what he says over and over again – our faith, because of our questions, actually grows stronger. And we then discover just how much Jesus loves us.

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 the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 10/14/2018.

Reflection: You – Actions & Faith

The book of Amos contains among the earliest sayings from a prophet recorded in the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament). Amos’ prophetic career was centered around the year 750 BCE (BC). We know very little about Amos’ life except for what’s recorded in the book itself. He was wealthy, owning substantial herds of sheep, and raised large orchards of fig trees. He lived in the town Tekoa, located a few miles south of Jerusalem. By this point, the original kingdom of David and Solomon had been split in two for centuries. The southern kingdom, centered around Jerusalem, was named Judah while the northern (and more powerful) kingdom was called Israel. At some point in Amos’ life, God compelled him to leave Judah and preach in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos wasn’t a professional prophet. He didn’t belong to the many prophetic schools and organizations that existed in ancient Israel. Instead, he was a wealthy business owner that God transformed into God’s mouthpiece. Amos’ words, while spoken in the Northern Kingdom, were directed towards anyone with wealth, power, and authority in both Israel and Judah.

As Amos sees it (Amos 5:6-7,10-15), those in comfort have lost sight of Israel’s special relationship with God. The covenant God established at Mt. Sinai (i.e. the ten commandments and the law) had been broken. The practicing of their faith had been reduced to mere performative acts. Instead of loving their neighbors and helping the power, those in power had increased the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The wealthy feel entitled to bribe judges, believing that the laws of land were something only other people had to follow. Corrupt judges were installed in the courts (in the ancient world, courtrooms were in the city gates – see 5:10) so that they could rule in favor of the powerful. Amos, in chapter 5, is pronouncing a death sentence against the people of Israel because, according to Amos, God is about to enforce the terms of the covenant. Since Israel wasn’t fulfilling their end of the bargain, God was going to respond. Yet the situation was not completely hopeless. The invitation to take God’s covenant seriously was still open. Amos’ call at the end of today’s passage is to “seek good and not evil [so] that you may live.” Even in the midst of death, resurrection can always happen.

It’s easy for us to read this passage and believe it doesn’t apply to us. We can always think of someone richer than us or that these words are meant for a so-called “elite” or “establishment” that we are not a part of it. But what if we didn’t do that? What if we let Amos’ words speak to us? As a church in Northern New Jersey, we live in one of the wealthiest areas in the world. If we own our home, know where our next meal is coming from, and have any kind of savings or wealth at all, we have a lot in common with the audience Amos was speaking to. This reading is an invitation for us to re-evaluate how our faith impacts how we live, consume, and practice any power that we have. And if our actions do not match our faith, then God is inviting us to change.

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 the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 10/14/2018.