A Psalm for Real Life

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;

my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;

I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;

they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!

Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!

Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Psalm 22

When I told the worship committee I wanted to bring the psalms into worship this summer, Ed Bailey soon sent me a poem I hadn’t read before. It was first published in 1838 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and it’s called “A Psalm of Life.” Longfellow is one of those poets who was super successful during his life but whose reputation started to fall quickly after his death. But this poem is one that is still regularly published and it goes like this: 

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

     Life is but an empty dream!—

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

     And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

     And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

     Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

     Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

     Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

     And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

     Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

     In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

     Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

     Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act,—act in the living Present!

     Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

     We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

     Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

     Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

     Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,

     With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

     Learn to labor and to wait.

Longfellow wrote these words shortly after the death of his first wife. And his not-so-subtle message is that life is meant to be lived. We shouldn’t lament the past or take the future for granted. We should go ever forward: achieving, pursuing, and always doing. “A Psalm of Life” is sort of like a 19th century kind of pep talk. And that’s one way the psalms in our Bible can be used. The 150 songs and poems are sometimes a tool meant to inspire us out of whatever we’re living through. But there are times when we can’t do or achieve or progress our way out of this moment. All we can do is just be. So when you can’t move forward, what does it mean to be with God? 

Now I would like to say that being with God means having a constant sense of peace and joy that directs our lives. There are those who experience God in this way but my life with God is a little more chaotic. There are times when things feel like they’re going exactly the way they’re supposed to. But there are other moments when life feels like it’s completely gone off the rails. We find ourselves living through things we never expected while, at the same time, discovering we aren’t who we thought we were. Broken relationships, broken bodies, broken dreams, and broken prayers means we’re not always progressing forward. Time marches forward but we might feel as if we’re standing still, falling backwards, or just spiraling because of things we’ve done or that have been done to us. Life is meant to be lived but that doesn’t mean living is easy. Sometimes we need permission to just be – holding all the emotions, fears, and uncertainty that comes with life. 

Which is why I’m grateful for psalms like 22. It begins in a difficult place with the writer spiraling through suffering. We might expect the author to name what they’re going through. But they don’t. Instead of letting us judge how worthy their suffering is, all we get is the intensity of their lament. They begged God to intervene and their constant prayers have left them exhausted. God has yet to act and they have no idea why. They feel entirely alone – isolated from their God and the community around them. And while we might believe that when you talk to God, you should speak in a way that feels holy and reverent. Yet the author does the complete opposite. They are fully themselves – feeling every one of their feelings – and not hiding behind a facade of holiness, goodness, or that they’re “doing okay.” What they’re going through is hard and they put into words the very strange experience of feeling as if God is gone but also present at the same time. The psalmist doesn’t try to be kind and asks God to be who God claims to be. 

One of the interesting things about this psalm is we’re not quite sure if the author’s bad circumstances ever go away. All we get are hints something happened. By verse 24, their pleading has been transformed into praise but, once again, we’re not allowed to explain away their experience by knowing all the details. Instead we’re invited to just be there and notice how their story is no longer what it once was. We have no idea if their life got better; all we know is their life was lived. And while they lived, God was there. God was there when they felt alone; God was there when they vented and raged. And God was there when they felt isolated from all they knew. Living with God means we get to be with God. And because God is there, our story doesn’t have to remain the same. The author could have kept their story to themselves but instead of thanking God in a private exchange no one else would hear, their words to God became a word from God meant for others. The entirety of their story – their frustration, their anger, and even their joy – was meant to be shared. And it’s through those words, we all see what it means to be and to live within the kingdom of God. Our God is big enough to hold all our anger and our Jesus is merciful enough to not let our story remain the same. Our lives are filled with change – and that change can be amazing, exciting, or downright awful. And while we might try to use the psalms to inspire us into achieving and doing more, we have a God who knows our lives are more than just an attempt to progress into whatever we think is sentimental and good. Life is full of challenges and our journeys that do not always make sense. Yet when Jesus shows up, the limits of our lives encounter the limitlessness of God’s love. That love knows change is real and how difficult it is for us to integrate that change into our lives and into our world. These changes can be amazing, like graduating from high school and heading off to college. But these changes can also be really hard and involve all sorts of  heartbreak we couldn’t possibly be ready for. Life isn’t easy and we don’t have a God who promises that hardships won’t come. What we have, instead, is a God who will live with us and hold through the moments when all we can do is be. Sometimes we will plead and beg and pray and say some not nice things to God. Yet even when we feel we can no longer cling to God, we – through baptism and faith – have a God who will always cling to us. This is the story we get to share with our friends, our church, our neighbors, and the world. And when we share this story, they will discover how they, as they are, can be with God too.  


Practice Life: The Pastor’s Message for the June 2022 Messenger

There was a three week stretch in May when I never sat down. I know that isn’t actually true since I’m (usually) sitting when writing my sermons, crafting the weekly newsletters, or putting together The Messenger. But there was about twenty one days when I didn’t have a chance to do nothing because there was always something more to do. There were weekly meetings to plan Woodcliff Lake United, a day of service in our town. There were moments helping the amazing volunteers at Trash and Treasure clean old toys, dusty picture frames, and piles and piles of books. Worship, Sunday School, Confirmation Classes, and various committee meetings had to be prepped for and led. We also had our annual New Jersey Synod assembly which included two workshops on communications which I hosted. And, there was the spring meeting of the New Jersey Candidacy Committee where three people were granted entrance into the candidacy process and one was approved for ordination. That doesn’t include all the track practices we went to, the baseball games we saw, the playgrounds that needed to be played in, the food that needed to be bought, the lunches and snacks that needed to be made, and all the bedtime reading that comes with being a parent. I wouldn’t have traded these three weeks for anything in the world, but you know you’re busy when managing an elementary school’s 3-day scholastic book fair is the least stressful thing you do.

May is always a busy month because the signs of new life invite us to cram as much life into all that we do. But practicing life in this way can be exhausting and, if we’re not careful, can increase the burnout we feel. God didn’t design us to always keep our feet on the gas pedal. We need to rest—which is why remembering the Sabbath is on the early side of the Ten Commandments. This rest includes sleep, eating well, exercise, and connecting with your God. Yet it’s hard to rest if we don’t have enough or if we feel guilt for not doing enough. It’s easy to feel as if you’re not providing your kids with the right kind of opportunity since we act as if 4th grade is too late to pick up a new sport. It is also a reality that there are moments when God’s abundance doesn’t feel like it’s being made real in our lives. We need to feel safe, protected, loved, and valued, or else our constant “doing” becomes our “undoing.” We can’t over function our way out of a crisis nor can be, with a wave of a wand, feel loved by those who don’t love themselves.

My security allows me to living out the various vocations God has given to me. And I’m grateful we, as the body of Christ, did our part to help people gain that same kind of security. Your generosity of time, talent, and stuff will let the CLC-Women’s group fund programs all over the world for people in need. Your generosity helped families through the Tri-Boro Food Pantry use their limited resources to buy their kids a new baseball glove instead of saving it for shampoo, dish soap, and paper towels. And, your continuing faithfulness to worship, care and prayer, means that the love of Jesus is being felt through the choices you make every day. I have no idea if life will slow down over these next few months, but I do know that we, together, have each other’s back. Let’s continue to help each other and our neighbors with what they need so that we can live into the various vocations God so generously gave us.

Blessed to be the church with you,
Pastor Marc

Children’s Message: A Spider-man Trinity

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And if you don’t know already, I’m a bit of comic book nerd. My three favorite heroes are Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Knight. But I’m also pretty fond of Spider-man and so I have with me 3 spider-mans. Now if you’ve seen the movie Spider-man: No Way Home, you’ll remember there’s many scenes where there are three different Spider-mans who come together to save the world. One is a Spider-man played by the actor Tobey Mcquire and he was the original spider-man in the movies that came out in the early 2000s. The other Spider-man was played by Andrew Garfield in the movies that came out in the 2010s. Finally, the third Spider-man was played by Tom Holland who first appeared in the movie Captain America: Civil War in 2016. So we have three actors who played spider-man in three sets of movies. They’re all spider-man but is Tom Holland exactly the same as Andrew Garfield or Tobey Mcquire? No. They’re different. So how can these three actors be spider-man all at the same time while being different from one another? 

Now we could talk about the multiverse and how the marvel comic book imagine the universe – but that idea how they’re all spider-man but their also a little bit different while still being superheroes who love and serve and try to make a difference – is an example we could use to describe the word Trinity. Today is Trinity Sunday when we remember and celebrate who we understand God to be. There is one God who we discover through God the Father – or Creator, God the Son – i.e. Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit. The Creator isn’t exactly the Son or the Spirt and vice versea but they’re all God. They’re individually fully God and still distinct, in their own way. The idea of the Trinity is something that’s not easy to understand and if you think about it too long, your brain might start to hurt. It might sound like we’re talking about three separate God or three parts of God but we’re not. We’re talking about God who we experience in three distinct ways – just like how Spider-man is always spider-man and the actors are always spider-man but there’s distinctiveness and connection and a kind of divine community in God that loves and serves us. The Trinity isn’t easy to understand and it’s okay if we never understand it. Often we don’t understand things and we might feel uncomfortable or sad or even get defensive and angry because of what we don’t know. It’s not easy to not know; it’s not easy to be uncomfortable; it’s not easy to realize that there’s somethings we’re never going to fully grasp. But Jesus teaches us that being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing; that getting emotional about being uncomfortable is pretty human; and that there are mysteries in life that we can’t always grasp and solve. It’s okay to be uncomfortable but we don’t have to let being uncomfortable dictate how we love, serve, and help one another. We can, instead, trust that the God who lived a human is a God and who told you in baptism you are loved forever – which is a completely weird and hard to understand thing – will always be with you. And God doesn’t ask you to understand that love but rather to experience it, to welcome it, to claim it as your own – and use that love to love others too. 

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 Trinity Sunday , 6/12/2022.

The Anxiety of Can We Talk Later?

[Jesus said:] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

John 16:12-15

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (June 12, 2022) on John 16:12-15.


One of the more anxiety inducing phrases we sometimes hear or say is: “can we talk?” Those words, on their own, don’t really mean too much but they hit differently when used by someone important to us. When someone I care about or respect uses those words, my mind immediately starts preparing for the worst. I wonder: are they going to tell me bad news? Are they angry at me? Did I do something wrong? My throat begins to tighten while my heart starts to race. And I suddenly become really uncomfortable as my brain comes up with every worst case scenario possible. Every once in a while, my physical and mental reaction to these words are way over the top. But there are other moments when it’s not. When someone says “can we talk,” we don’t know exactly what they want to bring up. We’re given a lot of uncertainty which is why, I think, our bodies and minds react so quickly once we hear those words. This simple phrase tells us we might be starting a really difficult conversation. Yet there’s also the option to make this phrase hit even harder. And that’s when the important person in our life asks, “can we talk later?” 

By just adding one word, everything we’ve already started to feel gets expanded. It’s hard to wait for that difficult conversation to begin and so we usually fall into an anxious spiral centered on what we don’t know is about to come. That feeling is one Elizabeth Evans, a deacon in the United Methodist Church, noticed while looking at our reading from the gospel according to John. She wondered if the disciples felt all these kinds of feelings when Jesus said his version of: “can we talk later?” “I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now” is a weird thing for Jesus to say in the middle of his last long sermon to his disciples before his death in John. Jesus, at this moment, is in the middle of his “Farewell discourse” which stretches from chapter 14 through chapter 17. During John’s version of the last supper, Jesus interrupted their meal by assuming the social and cultural position of a slave and washed  the feet of every one around the table. Once he was done, Jesus talked; and talked; and talked. Since he, according to John, knew the disciples would soon see him betrayed, arrested, and killed;  Jesus wanted to prepare them for the horror of experiencing what people do when God’s love makes itself known. This wasn’t the first time Jesus had talked about the Cross but the disciples struggled to integrate this reality into themselves because Jesus was still in front of them. Jesus, then, wanted to give them words they could hold onto to help them live through whatever came next. Yet in the middle of all his words, Jesus had the audacity to say there were even heavier things he couldn’t share with them right now. I imagine that once those words left Jesus’ lips, the disciples entered deeper into an emotional spiral of worry and fear and anguish that everything that might come next. When they needed reassurances that their experience with Jesus wasn’t for nothing, the disciples had to sit with every one of their uncomfortable feelings about their uncertain future. 

And the truth is that we don’t really know how to cope or handle all the stuff that comes with holding these kinds of feelings in our bodies and in our minds. In fact, we don’t often even acknowledge these feelings because of the amount of vulnerability required to admit we can’t control tomorrow. We sometimes try to shift the blame of these feelings onto others, saying it’s their problem or it’s them that caused us to feel this way. We get angry, defensive, or even bury our head in the sand, acting as if this uncertainty doesn’t really exist. But those feelings that reality is right there and “psychologists remind us that the only way to get past emotions is to feel them, as if [we’re] practicing the Marie Kondo method of tidying up—holding our feeling in front of us, naming it, thanking it for what it taught us, and letting it pass.” Admitting and then holding onto all of the stuff that comes with uncertainty is really hard. And I often wonder if some of the anger and worry and hatred and violence and the inability to empathize with people who are not exactly like us I see swirling in our world – comes from our inability to admit the uncertainty deep inside us. We convince ourselves that our real problem is that we’re just uncomfortable and the solution is to seek out, above all, a kind of comfort that avoids the conversations and experiences that might challenge who we imagine ourselves to be. And by ignoring that uncertainty, we end up letting it define how we live in the world. We act as if we’re in control but it’s the fear which makes us who we are. And so we do not reflect or wonder or ask meaningful questions about ourselves, our community, and our world because we don’t want to show how vulnerable this uncertainty makes us feel. 

Which is, I think, why we Christians need a Trinity. Instead of only describing what God is, we – as Christians – also give a name to how God is made real in our lives. God is the creator of everything and the reason why we’re here. Yet God is also the one who revealed God’s self in Jesus – who was crucified because we’re not as good or loving or as welcoming as we think we are. We need help – something stirring with, in, and through us, helping us to love like God loves. And that, I think, is one way to describe the spirit – this gift from God that animates us through the promise of the continued presence of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we see this Spirit throughout all of our holy scriptures, noting how it’s often described with a variety of pronouns, male and female, because the presence of God contains all. The Spirit doesn’t cure our “uncomfortable feelings associated with uncertainty,” but she comes to remind us we’re not alone. The Spirit reassures us we are not forgotten or that the pain or pride or fear or worry or uncertainty or uncomfortable feelings that define us will not define our relationship with God. It’s the Spirit that lets us sit with these uncomfortable feelings and exposes the uncertainty we’ve tried to hide from ourselves and from God. And when we experience all those feelings and truths and sorrows and anger and sadness we’ve tried so long to avoid, it’s the Spirit that gifts us faith, prayer, the Bible, worship, the Lord’s table, and the opportunity to bring everything to the foot of the Cross. Once there, we do not immediately get all the answers that will tame the uncertainty at the center of our fear. But we do see more clearly the promises given to us by God. You were created. You are loved. And in Christ, you are worth living and dying and rising for. The uncertainty you face and feel is very real but the love of God for you is real too. We can name and see and sit with all the uncomfortable feelings that come from the uncertainty we can’t control. Yet we don’t have to let those feelings limit the love we share because we have a God who will always carry us through. 


Children’s Message: Doing Something Different

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I have a question for you: has anyone showed you how to touch your toes?

I remember in gym class, we often had to touch our toes. It was part of the many ways they, in theory, measured our physical fitness and I couldn’t always do it. Not everyone can touch their toes – which is perfectly a okay – and I sort of thought it was weird that they showed me only one way to touch my toes. They told me to stand up, lean forward, and stretch to the floor. Every time we would do this physical fitness test, we would do it the same way. But I wonder – do you think there’s another way to touch our toes? 

Let the kids show you how to touch your toes. Practice. Try. Reiterate that it’s okay if we can’t. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t; some people will always be able to touch their toes; others never will. Touching our toes or the shape of our body doesn’t determine our worth or love – we’re just here trying to see if there’s another way to touch our toes rather than the one way we always did it. 

Then, once we try a few times, do the trick you saw on TikTok. Bend your knees. Lower your chest. Drop your head. Then straighten up. 

Did you see that? A different way helped us touch our toes. Sometimes, to do what we want to do – or what God wants us to do – we can’t always do things the same way over and over again. Sometimes we need to use our imagination – or our listening skills by asking other people how they do what they do. We – as people – don’t always know everything or have all the answers, and that’s okay. It’s good to say “i don’t know” or “I need help” or ask others for their thoughts. God doesn’t want us to know everything. Instead, God invites us to ask questions, to wonder, and to see if we can imagine things in a new way. And God has wanted us to do that for a long time. We’ll hear, in the book of Acts, a story of when people will hear Jesus’ story in words it hadn’t been spoken in before. God’s story is full of a love that doesn’t end – but a love that also moves, swirls, grows, and changes. God invites us to embrace that kind of change too. That doesn’t mean change is always easy or that change is something we’ll always want. But even in the change, God is with us, transforming us, so that we can share with ourselves and with others the one thing that never changes – which is God’s love for you, me, and the world.

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 Pentecost, 6/5/2022.

Pentecost: what love looks like

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Acts 2:1-21

My sermon from Pentecost (June 5, 2022) on Acts 2:1-21


Pete Holmes is a comedian who I’ve followed ever since he talked about what it’s like to carry google in your pocket. For the first time in human history, we have access to an incredible amount of information and yet we’re not a lick smarter for it. He encourages us to dwell in wonder: that space when we don’t have an answer for all the stuff we’ve lived through. Not knowing isn’t always a comfortable place to be in but there’s power in staying open to what we don’t know. A couple months ago, he was interviewed on the Late Show by Stephen Colbert and he started a comedy bit about having to re-learn how to act in public since we’ve chosen to move into a different stage of the pandemic. He described how people move in two modes: a group mode and a solo mode. Group mode is when we’re actively engaged with others by talking, chatting, or simply existing around each other. But solo mode is when you’re in the world but not trying to be a part of it. It’s when you bury yourself in an oversized hoodie, pop on some headphones, and sort of isolate yourself even when you’re surrounded by others. There are times when we need to be in group mode or solo mode and we often switch between them several times a day. Pete tried to set up a joke by saying how he saw someone in real time go from group mode to solo mode. Yet that was when Stephen Colbert, who is a trained comedian and should have recognized the kind of joke setup Pete was trying to do, interrupted with a question. He asked: “how do you see someone going from group mode to solo mode if you’re there?” How, when you’re in a group with someone else, can you see them enter their solo mode? That was a really good question that Pete didn’t expect. And when he tried to continue the joke, he couldn’t and he called out Colbert for not doing what he was supposed to do. In a really humorous way, Pete pointed out how he was Colbert’s guest and it was Colbert’s job to support him. The host was to help their guests sparkle and shine. Stephen Colbert didn’t do what he was supposed to do. And while it’s a silly moment, I couldn’t help thinking about it while reflecting on our reading from the book of Acts because helping others shine is what the Holy Spirit empowers us to do. 

Now this reading occured on a very specific day. The day of Pentecost was – and still is – a Jewish religious festival and it’s known as Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. In Jesus’ day, it was a harvest festival remembering and celebrating the generosity of God. People would go to the Temple and bring the first ripe grains of wheat that had grown in their fields. They were, in that moment, thanking God for those grains and trusting more would follow. The festival took place fifty days after Passover and in ancient Greek, the word for the “fiftieth day,” is Pentecost. This festival brought together people from all over the Mediterranean Sea into the city of Jerusalem. Today’s text, in fact, lists 15 different ethnicities, which most likely represented only a tiny fraction of those celebrating in God’s holy city. Together, they had a shared identity of being Jewish. Yet they also, as individuals, had their own stories, histories, and ethnicities reflecting how big their identities were. The people in the city were there to celebrate God and that diverse community included a small group of folks who followed Jesus. They were there to celebrate Pentecost but they were also wondering what it meant to follow Jesus. He was no longer with them like he once was and they didn’t know what their lives should now look like. They were wondering what would happen next. And that’s when, while gathered in a small house, something like the wind from a tornado filled the room. While wondering what this wind was all about, suddenly flames appeared over their heads that looked like tongues made of fire. The noise and commotion soon attracted the attention of those in the surrounding neighborhood who wondered what was going on. And that’s when the Holy Spirit, an empowering force from God, drew these two groups together. While they wondered, the Spirit moved through the followers of Jesus so that the crowd could shine. 

Now I’m not quite sure what the crowd expected to happen when they saw the small group of folks at the center of all the noise. But I’m pretty sure they didn’t think they would hear Jesus’ story in the language their parents spoke to them when they were born. The wind and the fire were soon forgotten because the experience of hearing those words drew all their attention. Some tried to come up with an answer to explain away what they heard. But Peter knew God was simply doing what God always does. God’s commitment to all of creation is always shown, and made real, in love. And that love does not replace the identities that make us who we are but rather celebrates who, in Jesus, we get to become. No one story or one kind of person or one experience defines what it means to be with God. God comes to us as we are because when Jesus died on the Cross, his arms were open to all. When the Spirit moved on the day of Pentecost, it didn’t empower everyone to speak or understand the same language. Instead, it enabled the followers of Jesus to share the good news: how God lived a complete human life and promised to transform us into something more. And because the crowd heard those words in a very personal way, they witnessed how the whole of who were was welcomed into the fullness of the body of Christ. This, I think, gives us a vision of what being a Christian and living a Christian life is all about. We, because of baptism and faith, get to help others shine. We, through the gifts God gives us, help the people around us become who God wants them to be. We, through our acts of care and service, simply help them thrive. Now to do that well, we need to act as if they’re already part of the group. That doesn’t mean we behave in a way that belittles their distinctiveness or acts as if their identity is something other than what it is. Instead, it’s a call for those of who follow Jesus to always see the other person as someone we’re already connected to. We might not know each other but because of Christ, we love them and through our love, empower them to love others too. Living our lives in this way is a bit hard and we’re not always going to do it right. But God, as we’ll hear in the promises we’ll affirm alongside with Anderson when he is confirmed later today, doesn’t ask us to live out that love on our own. God, instead, gives us the Spirit, this force empowering us to know who we are and to love others like God loves us. We’ll often wonder what this kind of life and what this kind of love looks like. But I’m pretty sure we see it and we live it when we choose to welcome, include, support, and help others shine. And that’s a love that all people, regardless of language, background, ethnicity, or identity, can feel, experience, and see. 


Sermon: God’s Weird in Love

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

My sermon from the Seventh Sunday after Easter (May 29, 2022) on Luke 10:25-37 (with a hint to Psalm 25:1-10)


How do you end a book about the end? 

If that question sounds familiar to you, it’s because I’ve asked it before. But unlike other writings we know, the questions we bring to Revelation rarely have only one answer. And that’s because the entire book is a little weird. Revelation was written by a man named John who was living in exile on the island of Patmos, a small piece of rock off the coast of modern day Turkey. After receiving a series of visions from God, he composed a manuscript known as an apocalypse. Now to us, an apocalypse is the end of the world but in John’s day, an apocalypse was a genre of writing meant to unveil or disclose something new. The idea was to show that no matter what people were going through, there was always more to the story. That more was hidden behind the everyday troubles of our world; a world wrapped in violence, fear, and sorrow. An apocalypse might be filled with descriptions of incredibly outlandish things but it was always written for real people living real lives. And so that’s why, way back in chapter 1, John mentioned seven specific faith communities in Asia Minor – aka modern day Turkey – that his book was written for. Each one of those communities was going through their own set of challenges – with some being persecuted by local authorities because they called someone other than the Roman Emperor, Lord. Others, though, were doing just fine. And yet that fine was, to John, a bit inauthentic. They were communities that busied themselves with being comfortable. They lacked a sense of urgency or purpose, seeking out the status quo because they assumed there would be enough time tomorrow to deal with the Jesus who came to them today. These kinds of communities were going through a very different experience than those who faced persecution from the government. Yet to John, the very weird visions God gave to him were visions meant for them both. 

So that’s why I like to imagine John, while trying to end his book about the end, re-reading everything that came before. He had used words to paint images of very odd things that cycled in and through and around each other. There was this throne in heaven, surrounded by four really weird looking creatures, a host of angels, and a chorus of singers that included all of creation – even the microbes living in the sea. There was Jesus who wasn’t described with long brown hair or sandaled feet. Instead, he had a sword for a mouth, looked like a lamb who was killed, and shone so bright there was no longer a need for a sun in the sky. John’s words also described broken seals, monstrous beasts, angelic trumpets, a red dragon, the spilling of all kinds of wrath on all kinds of people, and even several horsemen who brought death to a world reeling in pain. In the end, John wrote about a new holy city descending from above with streets covered in precious jewels and gates that never shut. Everything in Revelation is over the top, shocking, and downright weird. But through it all, God was present, active, and chose to do something even more weird: which was to just love. God took what was already here and made it new. And even when God felt far away – too far to care about those who were suffering and too far to make a difference in the here and now – Jesus was right there with you. 

Yet I know that kind of hope isn’t always easy to see because real life paints its own kinds of pictures we can’t easily shake from our heads. The picture I keep seeing are the words used to sketch out the timeline of cell phone calls made from Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas while the attack was on going. It’s an image I wish never had to be made yet shows how heartbreaking this life can be. And I’m not sure, exactly, what hope looks like when our status quo tolerates this kind of pain. Our first instinct might be to try and sketch out a competing vision for the world. It’s possible to imagine John of Patmos choosing to end his book with all kinds of blessings, joys, and images of love. He could have stopped with the weird and focused more on bringing us a sense of comfort and peace. Yet that wasn’t what John chose to do. Revelation “weaves notes of inclusion,” welcome, and blessing and notes of exclusion, expulsion, and fear “into a single fabric.” As Greg Carey noted, this “passage excludes transgressors from the Holy City, but it also extends an invitation—’Come!’—to everyone who is thirsty. The broader context of Revelation’s closing chapters imagines a lake of fire that receives every person whose name is missing from the Book of Life (20:15) but also a tree that bears fruit ‘for the healing of the nations’ (22:2). Revelation shows the nations and kings being annihilated during the final battle (19:15, 19), but in the New Jerusalem the nations walk by its illumination and their kings bring their ‘glory’ into the city (21:24–26).” And if we try to choose which kinds of weird from Revelation we pay attention to, Revelation doesn’t let us pay attention to only what brings us comfort. This book is meant to be taken as a whole because our whole lives are meant to be taken as a whole too. Real life is very weird and so, I think, Revelation is supposed to stay weird too. The book doesn’t contain some kind of secret message we’re supposed to decode that reveals when God’s kingdom will finally come. Rather, John used images and pictures that mixed, cycled, terrified, and excited because only that kind of weirdness can speak to how ridiculously weird it is to live in a world where what happened at Robb Elementary is accepted as part of the status quo. When John wrote the end to the end, he wanted it big enough to contain all the ridiculousness of real life. Because when we notice and accept and own just how strange, wonderful, and hard life actually is, we realize we’re not actually God. And if we’re not God, that might be the hope we need. 

Because if we are not God, then the story we’re currently writing through our actions and inactions isn’t the real story. The status quo we’re living through isn’t all there is because there’s another story – a heavenly story – where God’s weird trumps our own. God’s weird includes how we, through baptism and faith, are transformed into more than who we thought we were. We are Christ’s body – which is a weird thing to say and an even weirder thing to trust and know is true. And while that’s a beautiful sentiment to express, it’s also difficult when we admit the whole of who we are. We are not perfect. We are often at fault. We exclude, push aside, and let others be expendable as long as we’re as comfortable as we feel entitled to be. We’re broken and wounded and far from ever feeling as whole as we believe we’re supposed to be. We’re just people – people who need Jesus rather than the other way around. Yet Jesus, the son of Mary, the healer, teacher, and rabble rouser who kept reaching out to include all he could, doesn’t expect us to be perfect. Jesus just asks us to trust that the more is our whole story. The body of Christ – a body full of wounded people – is a body with hands and feet that still bear the wounds of the nails that were smashed through them. Yet even the status quo of the Cross for that body was changed into something new. We can, like John of Patmos, paint a new picture that takes seriously the whole of our lives while, because of Christ, knows how the end of our story is already being written. What we imagine is the status quo today is a contradiction from the true status quo we were given in baptism and in faith. Things can, and should, change because we are part of the weird of God. And if God’s weird is to always love – then our status quo can only be to love just as weird as God. 


Sermon: Where We’re From

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:9-15

My sermon from the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 22, 2022) on Acts 16:9-15.


So last Sunday afternoon, I managed the Tri-Boro Food Pantry’s table at Woodcliff Lake United: a day of service. We, along with other faith communities and organizations, gathered together hundreds of rolls of paper towels, toilet paper, toothbrushes, dish soap, maxipads, tampons, adult diapers, toothpaste, shampoo, and laundry detergent. Our hope was that attendees would learn which items were not covered by SNAP benefits and then pack tote bags filled with those items for the 130+ families who rely on the food pantry every week. My favorite part of the event was seeing people having “ah-ha” moments when they imagined what their lives would be like without toilet paper or soap. This event not only made a real difference in people’s lives; it also invited everyone into a deeper conversation about who calls Northern New Jersey home. Yet one of those conversations has been gnawing at me all week. Two women came to me, wondering what all the stuff was about. I explained to them, in detail, about what we were trying to do and how food isn’t always enough. They were excited to learn there was a pantry and local faith communities who actually cared. As we talked, the conversation became a little more personal as they wanted to know more about this church and about me. It’s then when one of them asked me a question I’m never quite sure how to answer. She looked at me and with incredible kindness and sincerity in her voice, asked: “where are you from?” 

Now it took me a moment to respond because we were at an event called Woodcliff Lake United and so I knew she wasn’t asking about my connection to New Jersey. I had a hunch, based on our entire conversation, that she was asking about my ethnicity. She had expectations of who I was based on what I looked like. And I knew, at that moment, I needed to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually ready to deal with whatever this conversation brought up. I hoped that at its best, we might be amazed at how so many different people from so many different places throughout the ages led us to be, together at that moment, packing bags to support all the people who call Northern New Jersey home. But I also knew, at its worst, I might be asked to prove how American I actually am. “Where are you from” is a difficult question for me to answer since my family tree is a little complicated. I can trace my ancestors back to colonial America and to people who, legend says, fought for the British in the Revolutionary war. There’s also another branch of people who were indigenous to the land and those whose  nationality changed after the border moved during the US-Mexico War of 1848. I also have ancestors who were refugees who fled Mexico in 1917 as well as others who left southern Italy to make a new life for themselves in the city of brotherly love. There’s a lot of stories within my ethnicity but I chose, at that moment, to simply say I grew up in Colorado. That wasn’t what she was looking for so she followed up with another question. She wondered “if I spoke Spanish because I look like I should.” There is, in our culture, an expectation that Americans look a certain way, speak a certain way, and are always easy to see. But the idea of what an American is – is an idea that’s been contested for centuries. Way back in the 1700s, Ben Franklin said some nasty things about Germans because he thought they could never be like him. And our violent, complex, and painful history of slavery and the treatment of Native Americans show that even acting like an American doesn’t mean you’ll be accepted as one. The Irish, at first, weren’t included in the fabric of America and it took awhile before people from Italy were as beloved as the pasta dishes and pizza they cooked. It even took a Chinese-American who simply wanted to return home to the city in California he was born in to redefine our idea of citizenship. We are engaged in an on-going conversation about who’s allowed to claim the American dream as their own and this conversation is full of conflict, protest, anger, fear, joy, inclusion, welcome, and violence. This question of American identity isn’t a question limited to our past because there are some who have done horrible things because of this conversation at a grocery store in Buffalo, a Walmart in El Paso, and at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Who we are and who we’re allowed to be is a big part of our story. And that reality shows up in our reading from the book of Acts because when Paul went looking for one identity, he instead met a woman from somewhere else. 

Up to this point in the book of Acts, Paul – a Jewish man who was also a Pharisee and a Roman citizen – had been primarily bringing Jesus to the people living in Asia Minor, aka modern-day Turkey. But one day God showed him a vision of a man asking for help. Paul and his companions then crossed the Aegean Seas because they recognized the man as Macedonian. This small group landed in the city of Philippi, the capital of the Roman Macedonian province, on the mainland of Europe. Now when Paul arrived at a new place to share Jesus, he had a pattern of first visiting the marketplace or the local synagogue. But instead, we’re told he went to a place outside the city gates that was known as a place for prayer. We don’t know exactly what Paul was looking for but we do know what he found. He came across a group of women and among them was Lydia, who is the first named person in Europe we meet. But Lydia, herself, wasn’t known as a European. She was, instead, from Thyatira, which was located in Asia minor. Lydia was a businesswoman, a trader in purple cloth which was the color reserved for emperors, kings, and the very rich. She was also known as a worshiper of God which meant she was, like Paul, either Jewish or a God-fearer, a gentile who believed in God but who hadn’t fully converted to Judaism. Since it was the Sabbath, I assume Lydia and the other women were there to worship God. And since only women were in that space, there’s a possibility that Paul wasn’t supposed to be there. But Paul didn’t let other people’s expectations get in the way of Jesus. He, on that holy day, shared how the divine and human had come together in a way where neither lost its distinctiveness nor became something it wasn’t. Jesus was fully human, fully divine, and had an identity big enough to hold all other identities within the limitlessness of the kingdom of God. Lydia, even though she lived in Philippi, was still known as someone from somewhere else. She knew what it was like to be asked if she belonged. Lydia, because of her career, her wealth, her status, her gender, her background, and her ethnicity, lived with an identity that was often contested. Yet when Paul showed her Jesus, she saw her place in Him. Through faith, grace, and baptism, Lydia gained a new identity as a publicly declared child of God. This identity did not replace who she was but invited her to become something more. 

In the words of Professor Jennifer T. Kaalund,  ​​”Paul [set] sail looking for a man to share the good news with in Macedonia. Instead, he encounter[d] a group of women.” His expectations were modified and replaced because Jesus’ story is a story meant for all. The question – “where are you from” doesn’t just impact those whose identities are contested by others because who we are and who we are allowed to be matters to us all. Yet through Jesus – you are always more than what others say about you. And that’s because you are the body of Christ. When we find ourselves face to face with sinful, heretical, and unChristian ideologies like “the great replacement theory” or any other belief that draws boundaries based on hatred and fear, our Christian response starts by noticing our place within the body of Christ. We, through Jesus, are part of something more; a more than includes a Macedonian man, a woman from Thyatira, a Pharisee from Tarsus, a person who recently discovered what isn’t covered by SNAP benefits, those families who rely on the Tri-Boro Food Pantry to survive, and all of us gathered in worship right now. When we have Jesus, where we’re from is not limited to where we were born or where others think we belong. Instead, we’re first – and foremost – with God and we’re part of a love which, even on the Cross, kept its arms open to all. 


Children’s Message: Bad Days Happen

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I have a question for you: what do you do when you have a bad day? 

Now a bad day can be different for each of us but we all have bad days. Sometimes those bad days are because of something we did or didn’t do; or maybe because of something that happened to us. If we could choose, we wouldn’t want to have very many bad days but bad days happen – and sometimes they happen over and over again. So when we have a bad day, we sometimes do things – whether we realize it or not. When I have a bad day, I tend to get more irritable and angry. That means – and this is my fault – I’m not as nice as I want to be those I love when I have a bad day. Sometimes a bad day will also make me feel sad or scared or nervous. I might find myself crying by myself or sitting in a car longer when I get to places or, on days when the day has just taken all my energy, I stay up too late and look at my phone. So what do you do when you have a bad day? 

And what would you like to do, instead, when you have a bad day?

I was thinking about this for two reasons. One, I found a book at my school’s bookfair that I helped manage this year called “Even Superheroes have Bad Days.” And it’s true – even superheroes have bad days. If we read comic books or watch comic book movies, we know that the bad days superheroes have usually involves them having to fight supervillians. But they also have days where they get a parking ticket or they don’t listen to a friend like they were supposed to or when they didn’t love as much as they should or didn’t feel the love they also needed. Superheroes could get mad or angry and do awful things – to make the world around them feel the way they feel inside. But…they could also do something different. They could realize they’ve had a bad day – and choose to give themselves a timeout. They could choose to rest, if they could. They could choose to do their best to not take things out on others. And if they were Christians like us – they could choose to worship, to pray, to read the Bible, and to hear how people always have bad days – yet God comes to them again and again to say they are loved and they matter. Superheroes could let the bad day not be what defines them – but rather let love, care, and kindness be what matters. They don’t always get that right – but by thinking about bad days before we have bad days, they have a chance at making sure they don’t harm the people around them.

And the second reason why I was thinking about that is because of our first reading today when Paul, a preacher who traveled around the mediterranean sea, met a woman named Lydia. And while the text doesn’t say why they met outside the walls of a city, in a place where there was water, I wonder if Lydia was there because she had a bad day and needed to get away. Maybe she needed to visit nature – or visit a place that had special meaning for her – or be in a place where here people would gather to worship and to feel loved because things hadn’t gone well. And while there – she met this Paul who told her the love Jesus had for her. And Jesus loved her not because she was always perfect and was good all her days. He loved her because sometimes we have bad days – and we need a God who is with us even when things are hard. So when you have your bad days, learn how to not hurt the people around you. And when you have bad days, remember that a bad day doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t with you. Jesus is right there showing you that your bad days won’t define all the days you get to spend with God. 

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 Sixth Sunday after Easter, 5/22/2022.