Sunday, April 20, 2014

Update! Sermon for 4/20/2014, The Resurrection of Our Lord: Running the Race of Resurrection

I added a video from Berklee College of Music that goes well into my own thought processes on this sermon called "I Don't Have a Song For That". Christ The King's own Joe Barnard helped produce this amazing video.

This was Pastor Mark's sermon at Christ the King Lutheran Church on April 20, 2014. 

Gospel: Matthew 28:1–10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.  5But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.  7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you."  8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  10Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Just over a year ago, I took the train into Boston, met my cousin’s wife, and watched the Boston Marathon, about a half-mile from the finish line. After we cheered on my cousin, we navigated masses of humanity to meet him. After enjoying the beautiful day, the festive and encouraging atmosphere, and the thrill of watching the athletes strive for the finish line, I was heading home on the train to Stoughton, when I started getting the text messages asking if I was ok.

At that point, the 2013 Boston Marathon, was over much earlier than it should have been, and while all of us anxiously waited for information about what happened and how bad things were, I kept thinking about how just hours earlier, everything was different. I remember walking around, Boston, thinking about what an undertaking the Marathon was, and feeling good about being present and sharing in a spirit of cooperation and good will with so many other people. In the aftermath, as the goodness of the day was shattered, I kept thinking about how such a thing that was so good would never be the same.

On that beautiful day, last year, I wasn’t alone in that feeling of loss and confusion, trying to comprehend how everything could change, so quickly from peace and good will, to violent tragedy. This whole area of the country was shocked that day, and as a collective, we shared in this sick feeling, one that many of us, if not all of us, have experienced in much more individual ways.

That sense of shock, is what all of creation experienced about 2000 years ago, when Jesus Christ, who embodied the spirit of all those marathon participants and spectators, was crucified. In fact, the shattering of that peace was so great, the earth shook and the sky went dark, as signs that things would never be the same.

Today though, is Easter Sunday, and we know that the tomb is empty, we know that Christ has been raised. We know that sin and death do not have the final answer, life and resurrection do.

But on this glorious morning, we are reminded that resurrection, isn’t starting over. While life goes on, the past remains, all of it: the wonderful memories, the painful reminders, and the deep absences of those who have died. Easter, and the resurrection it promises doesn’t just magically gloss over everything and make it all ok.

Rather, resurrection is about going forward, being made new, in the promise that there will be new, wonderful memories ahead, and going forward having learned from the lessons of the past. Most of all, resurrection is being sure in the promise that while we can never replace those who have died, the love of Christ that we have shared with them is eternal, and will sustain and hold us who are living, and those who have died.

Tomorrow, just like they have for over 100 years, people will gather to run the Boston Marathon, and many more will gather to cheer them on. While the event will go on, it will be different this year. The grief, pain, and losses have not disappeared, and there will be very real reminders of all that has occurred. Yet the Marathon, will be resurrected, and difficult as it may be, the race will be run, and the spirit that it embodies will be alive, well, and stronger than ever. Tomorrow, the love that has helped so many to endure, care for, heal, and grow, will make a clear witness against sin and the destruction it brings.

Every day, as Christians, we live as a resurrected people, an Easter people, raised in, with, and through Christ’s resurrection to new and eternal life. And we have been raised to this new life for a purpose, so that through us, God may carry-on the mission of Christ. The mission of sharing peace, justice, hope, and love with all people, no matter what. The mission of offering ourselves to the world, just as Christ offered himself. The mission of staring down the sin that would attempt to tear us apart, with the life of the one who unites us all, Jesus Christ.

This morning, on this Easter Sunday, we are gathered not to celebrate a happy ending, but to be raised in the eternal resurrection of Christ, so that together, we may grow in his love, and continue to run the race that is before us, both now and forever.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Each day during Lent, I will be updating my blog based on WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

A couple years ago, the awesome group Metallica, celebrated 30 years together as a band with a series of concerts in San Francisco. The group invited old members back to play and collaborated with different artists on some of their songs throughout the series.

One collaboration they did, was with the cello group, Apocalyptica for their song One. While the song and performance isn't an attempt at reenacting the Crucifixion, I do think it is a stark, modern image into the solemn, painful, and horrible events of that day...without gratuitous blood.

The song, is sung from the perspective of a wounded soldier, hooked up to life-support systems, and trapped in his own world, painfully awaiting death. Confronted with this reality, nothing is real, the world he knew has ceased to exist, the things that gave him meaning are gone...nothing is real but pain. In this time, the person on death's door is seeking God's help, seeking God's release, seeking anything really, other then the living hell he currently exists in. As the music picks-up, the lights drop, and one is reminded of the earth shaking and the veil tearing, as Jesus died.

For me, this piece, embodies the pointlessness of our human ambitions, and the sufferings they cause. It also reminds me that Jesus was willing to endure these sufferings, so that we could see the world as it really is. Jesus endured these sufferings so that we could see that conquest doesn't come from war, but from love, and that glory isn't in our greatest successes, but is in the cross, the place of the greatest offering.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lent Day 36: WIGIAT? Easter talk, Good Friday response.

Each day during Lent, I will be updating my blog around the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

Yesterday, I was invited to talk to our wonderful preschool about Easter. I enjoy going down there and interacting with the children, and I had done a little talk with them about St. Francis and also about Christmas. Now, talking to children about how much God loves all the animals, or using a Nativity set to share the joy of little, baby Jesus coming into the world is pretty easy. Talking about Easter on the other hand, provided me a little bit more of a challenge.

I floated my first idea past the preschool staff, but for some reason they didn't think using a doll and a wooden cross and some ketchup packets to reenact the crucifixion scene was a good idea. So, in the end, I tried to avoid touching much on the death of Jesus at all, brushing past it with a metaphor about toys running out of batteries, and then getting batteries that never run-out. Also, I used the imagery of a butterfly, and the flowers of Spring, etc. We said a short prayer together, I handed out a coloring sheet, and thought we were all in a pretty good, happy, Easter place.

Then, one of the 4-year old children asked, "If Jesus gets to come back to life, why don't other people who have died?" When the young boy asked me this, I wasn't so quick with a response, and probably had a lot of mmmsss and ahhhss as I tried to find just the right words. The boy was patient, and listened, and seemed to accept my answer that while people who have died stay alive in our memories, God brought Jesus back to life so that we could always know God loves us. God didn't need to bring everyone back to life, (at least as we know it anyway) to tell us this, but God does promise us that those who have died are with Jesus, just as we will be someday too.

Then, there were a couple of other great questions from other children; "Who will God take care of once all the people have passed away?" and "why did Jesus have to die on a cross?" And one little girl said, "My Grandma died last year, but she's still living in my heart."

God, was in these children, and their questions, and acknowledgment of death. Sometimes, we try to hide children from these things, but saying someone has died is much more tangible for a child, and all of us for that matter, then not acknowledging someone's absence, and the hole they've left in our life.

Yet, we often approach Easter, like we approach children, and each other. We celebrate the new life, without acknowledging the death that occurred. God is with us in the Easter promise not just to help us move on from our grief, but to help us walk boldly into our losses, our heartaches, and our sorrow, with the promise that the loved ones we grieve are not burdens to carry, but joys to bring into a changing world. Thank goodness for Children, who can courageously help adults face our mortal lives, and thank goodness for Jesus, who gives us the promise of new life in these children, and in each other.

And, as I was leaving, one of the children came to me and said, "I think Michael Jackson has new life." I replied, "Sure, and his music is still around for us to listen to." He said, "Yeah, like Thriller!" It didn't dawn on me until today, that maybe he'd actually seen the video, and had the image of all the zombies dancing around in his head....

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lent Day 35: WIGIAT? P>a

Each day during Lent I'm updating my blog around the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

At my internship congregation, my supervisor, Pr. Will, always talked about the wisdom that had been shared with him. P>A: Process is greater than answer. Normally, this is apparent in healthy, vibrant groups of people. Process is greater than answer because the process is enjoyable, and people like being around one another, and find reasons to do so. Or, big occasions, like Easter or Christmas are less about how everything should be in just the right place, and more about everyone getting together in the same place. Process is greater than answer, because you're not just trying to get somewhere, you're journeying together.

When it comes to God, it's all about the process, in fact, our whole existence and purpose are about God's creative process. This is why Jesus died on a cross instead of asking God to send a legion of angels to destroy those who arrested him and to ultimately answer the problem of sin. Thank goodness for this, because in God's creative process, we have not been destroyed, but empowered to take part with God in this process.

Many times, processes break down because of competing agendas, which mirror competing personalities. Unfortunately, these competing agendas, and our failed processes divide us. Yet in the process of God, we are given the chance to be reunited with each other, and called to share in the process of mending the entire universe, that God, the inventor of the creative process, is undertaking.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lent Day 33: WIGIAT? Saturday Song

Each day during Lent I'm updating my blog based on WIGIAT?or Where is God in all this?

A short post today, I just want to share a a post on the fond memory of the ELCA 2012 Youth Gathering. The even was great in so many ways, one was Rachel Kurtz and her song Make a Difference, which was the theme song of the gathering:

And, she also did a version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which capped off a great Friday night in the dome.
Tomorrow is Palm/Passion Sunday, peace be with you.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lent Day 32: WIGIAT? 70

Each day during Lent I am updating my blog around the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

According to my blog profile, this update is my 70th post to my blog. This blog that I've started isn't the longest running one of all time, but it has been around a good 9 months or so. Before this current Lenten endeavor, I was updating my blog on a weekly basis pretty regularly. What I'm trying to say, is that before actually knowing the number of post I had, I would have guessed it was higher than 70.

In the book known as The Bible, and more specifically the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that we should forgive those who sin against us not 7 times, not 70 times,  but 70 x 7. If someone has actually sinned against me in such a manner that I would take it personally and feel that I must be officially count a time of forgiveness against them, that would be a lot of times. In fact, when Jesus says that one must forgive 490 times, he's really saying that you must keep forgiving.

While Jesus tells us we must forgive, and keep on forgiving, he's not telling us that when people sin against us it doesn't matter. Jesus isn't calling us to be doormats. The fact of the matter is, is that God cares very much about our sin, and the ways we hurt each other and hurt creation. In Christ, God shows us this, as he was sent to free us from sin, both ours and the sin of others. You see, not only does Christ not sin, he also doesn't make room for the sin of others to infect him, change him, and make him violent and bitter. Instead, Jesus, through his righteousness, transforms those who he encounters, and through his grace gives them his life. And Jesus, keeps doing this, again, and again, and again, and again.

70 is a big number, and 70 x 7, is a lot bigger number. But how many more times have I heard in worship, from the saints who God has sent to me, and in the Word of God that God has lovingly forgiven me. When Jesus talks about how many times we are to forgive, we also remember how many more times we have been forgiven, and the ways it has transformed our lives. Just think how much someone else would be transformed, if we lovingly, through our own freedom and not co-dependency, forgave them only 490 times.

God is in the day to day love, that adds up to big things.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lent Day 31: WIGIAT? Marilyn

Each day during Lent I will be updating my blog based on WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

Today, I was visiting a member of the congregation who lives in a nursing home. As one of the other residents walked by, she gave a wave and invited him in, saying, I want you to meet my pastor. Bob came in, and I greeted him. I shared my joke, April showers bring May flowers, but what do Mayflowers bring? Pilgrims! and he didn't get it. But he did share about is garden, and a few other things. He seemed a little sad about his circumstances, but also shared how happy he was to have Marilyn as a friend, saying she always smiled at him. After he left, Marilyn introduced me to her roommate for at least the 3rd time, and told me how nice it was to have a roommate she got along with. Then, when it was time for me to leave, Marilyn walked me out, and introduced me to at least 5 staff members. It was so nice to be around someone that found such joy in the people around her, and passed that joy on to them.

While I was with her, I talked about one of my favorite books, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. In this children's book, a little boy and a tree have a relationship, that changes through time, until the boy is an old man, and the tree is just a stump. In this last stage, the tree is delighted to be able to give the man a place to sit and rest. Marilyn, who doesn't have a lot of freedom to go and do whatever she wants, reminds me of the tree that is still happy to give whatever she has to offer.

God, has given us all the ability to give, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. It comes in seeing the gifts that are the people and world we have around us, and delighting and sharing in those gifts. God was present in Marilyn, her friends, and the people of the nursing home today, and I am grateful to have experienced it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lent Day 30: WIGIAT? Bob the Builder!!

Each day during Lent I am updating my blog around the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

In the lobby of Christ the King, there are a few 2x4's on display. These boards are part of a drive, put on by our wonderful youth, to raise funds for a Habitat for Humanity house in Lowell, and will be used in the building of the house. As people have given money for the cause, they've written messages of hope and love on them in marker. It's a neat way to raise money for a worthy ministry.

While I was passing the boards today, I noticed the sign below that someone had taped to the boards.

3 years ago, I wouldn't have chuckled when seeing this sign, because I wouldn't have known it's referencing the theme song for the kid's show, Bob the Builder. Now days, that song, "Can we build it? Yes we can!" appears on my mental playlist quite often. 
Whether it is a show, or a ministry, God is found in the builders. Building is something that takes effort, and teamwork, different materials, and different gifts. And building is done through learning, watching, balancing, acting, and using the claw side of the hammer to pull-out the nails you bent or put in the wrong spot. The final product of a building project is something that is held together with everything in just the right spot, even if it took multiple attempts to get it there. (Imagine if you had to tear everything down and start over if a hole was drilled in the wrong spot!)

God is in our building projects, whether they be in the building-up of our lives, each other, and our communities. And, because God is in our building projects, God's grace is in them too, and anyone can be a builder. They can start doing the work, and learn as they go, sure that God isn't going to tear the whole project down, but instead correct, guide, and help. 

Thank goodness for the grace that makes us builders, because anyone can be in the destruction business too, and when it comes to our lives together, that's a much easier trade to learn and use, but it unfortunately leaves you homeless.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lent Day 29: WIGIAT? Tearing Robes

Each day during Lent I am updating my blog around the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

This Sunday, we will be reading the entirety of Matthew's Passion in worship. Did you know, that in Matthew's version of the persecution, death, and resurrection of Christ, he goes before the High Priest, named Caiaphas? And, that when Caiaphas has finally heard enough to accuse Jesus of blaspheming that he tears his own robes?

Albrect Duhrer
I'm sure I've heard this story and narrative many times, but this detail has never really stuck out to me, nor have I ever really thought about what it means. In the last couple of days though, this part of the story, and the image of Caiaphas responding to this exchange: Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’  has been much more vivid in my head. This is because I've seen a lot of picture of Caiaphas lately, while I've been putting together a slideshow to display while I read the Passion on Sunday. In these pictures, Caiaphas is always shown tearing his robe, which we might miss in our hearing, but which really stands out when we see it.

While Caiaphas tearing his clothes has some minor significance, what is even more significant is how much seeing something visually helped me to notice a detail that I didn't pay attention to in either hearing or reading the text. This is where God is, in all of our senses and ways of experiencing things and in the ever expanding perspective...and empathy that this gives to us. Too often, we as Lutherans hear the phrase, sola scriptura, or word alone, and think this is only referring to words on a page. The word of God comes to us not only in words, but through all the ways that we sense the world around us; whether it comes in the form of for the Bible tells me so, taste and see that the Lord is good, or let my prayer rise like incense. 

Simon Bening

God comes to us in many diverse ways, always enriching our life through ever expanding perspectives.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lent Day 29: WIGIAT? In the silence.

Each day during Lent I am updating my blog using the them of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

God, can be found in silence and serenity...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lent Day 28: WIGIAT? Carousels

Each day during Lent, I am updating my blog using the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

Today, I was at a child's birthday party in at a Carousel in Holyoke, Mass. It was a lot of fun, and I think I went around on that historic ride 8 or 9 times....accompanying Charlie of course. This was a little different then the birthday party we went to about a month ago, where the children got to go on a real horse ride...which the parents didn't get to do. (Both parties were wonderful!)

I was thinking about these two parties in regards to God. The Carousel, is like our lives in a world where sin has the last word. It's a ride on fake horses that always take you back to the same place you were before. This is what sin does, it gives us a fake perspective on life, and always leads us back to the same place of disappointment, hate, isolation, and death. The sinful world isn't the real world, just a flawed replica of the world and life God has made us to live in.

The real horse doesn't just take us in circles, instead, it can take you places and show you new things everyday. The real horse also gives you least according to all the TV shows and movies, and it's not just a mechanical thing moving, but something the rider needs to respect and care for. The rider and horse work together, and can grow and adapt to the world around them as well. This is the life of grace that God has given us. It is one that shows us so many new perspectives and things to grow in, but it does so by taking us to unknown places. But, when we go to those places, we are never alone, but always in relationships of mutuality, working with other people and adapting through our combined gifts to the challenges we will face. These are relationships given to us, in this real world, that are wrapped and sustained in the grace of God, so that we can experience life as the One who has created life intended.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lent Day 27: WIGIAT?: MLK Jr.

Each day during Lent I am updating my blog, based on WIGIAT? Where is God in All this?

On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot outside a hotel in Memphis. I'm not going to say much about this tragic event; just that King led a movement, that was both civil and divine, and was used by God to help usher in a little more of the Kingdom of God. Pride: In the Name of Love, by U2 is a great song about Dr. King.

And this song, by Nina Simone, Why?: The King of Love is Dead, is a raw, emotional testament to those days. 

Today, 46 years after his death, Martin's life still testifies to God's Kingdom of love that continues to break into this world. Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lent Day 26: WIGIAT? New technologies.

Each day during Lent, I am updating my blog based on the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

Today, I posted my first ever video to YouTube, and the first one on Christ the King's new YouTube channel. This, in and of itself is not all that earth shattering. YouTube as been delighting people with cute videos and so much other stuff...mostly good, for a long time, and getting something posted on it isn't a big deal. Nor was it that hard to make a video, as all I had to do was push a button on my phone, and doing a choppy job of editing it was pretty easy as well. So, all in all, not a big deal.

But, how far we've come in terms of technology in a really short time is really amazing. The idea of doing something like this all with the resources I have at my disposal would have seemed far fetched six or seven years ago.

What's even more amazing than that, is that the message I was relaying, was a message about the meal of Holy Communion, which was instituted about 2000 years ago by a guy who was hardly a blip on the radar of all the important things going on at the time. Even more so, there wasn't a lot of social media opportunities then, there wasn't even video to record the whole thing. But, somehow, the message got out, and we continue to partake in this meal, and record videos about it today. This happened not because of some sort of great marketing campaign, but because in this meal is the truth, about who God is, and God's love that goes beyond all understanding. As the world continues to change, God will continue to be in the meal of Communion, pouring out these symbols of unending life for us, and calling us to do the same with our lives.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lent Day 25: WIGIAT? In our uncertainties.

Each day during Lent I am updating my blog based on the theme of WIGIAT? or Where is God in all this?

This evening, as we were discussing how we are called to follow Christ during the discussion time of our midweek Lenten times, we had some very good discussion on needs and wants. Furthermore, people shared how refreshing and freeing it was to read in Baptized We Live that we live by trust and not by certitude. The life of faith doesn't promise us life without sorrow, pain, evil, or sickness, and we go into it trusting that God means us well. The idea of being called only to strive for faithfulness, and not effectiveness was also a part of this.

The truth is, is that God exists much more in our uncertainty than in having all the answers. It is in our uncertainties that we can be on the look-out for God, and the grace and love that is given to us by God, rather than constantly having to keep God secure in the boxes that we like to put God in. It is in our weaknesses and the empty spaces in our lives where we allow God to fill us through many wonderful things in life, and especially in each other. It is in our vulnerabilities and not our strengths where we find common ground with each other, and the strength to weather the hard times.

God has given us all gifts, to share with the world, but to see WIGIAT? we must not only give our gifts, but open ourselves to receiving the gifts of others as well. Especially the gifts of those who the world seems to think have little to offer.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lent Day 24: WIGIAT? Ice Cream

Each day during Lent, I am updating my blog based on figuring out, Where is God in all this?

Today, it was a really warm and sunny day. So this evening, my son, Charlie and I, went to go and get ice cream. When you get to eat ice cream with your three-year old son, God is there, no other explanation necessary.