A Church You’ve Been Longing for: “Asks Better Questions Than Has Answers” Mark 8:27-38


Sermon on Mark 8:27-38

A Church You’ve Been Longing for:
“Asks Better Questions Than Has Answers”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT
Pastor Geoff Sinibaldo

Reach the Beach Ragnar
Camp Calumet

Posted in Camp / Outdoor Ministry, Church & Mission, Discovery, Faith Everyday, on Gospel of Mark, Sermons, Thinking About Church Differently | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A few thoughts on 9/11 at 17

Time does march on,” as the saying goes, but I remain curious about the validity of the other saying that tends to go along with it: “Time heals all wounds.” Does it?

A year ago this past May, my son Joe and I went to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. He was born in 2003.  Our daughter was born in 2005. 9/11 is not a day they remember firsthand but a day to learn about from us and at school.  I remember the Memorial being beautiful and very well presented. I also remember how the wounds of that terrible day felt just as fresh, just as raw and just as painful as it has each year we remember the horrors of that day in 2001. Joe was not alive when the attack took place in 2001, but commented that he could feel how raw it felt to him too.

Many things have changed since 2001, but other things have not. The pain remains real and intense. The wounds of that day are still open for many. There is healing growing from underneath, but we as a people keep picking at the scab, keeping our injuries fresh. The tissues have yet to scar leaving a lasting mark as we mend and are made whole again.

I wonder about that. I pray about that.

I remember quite vividly our U.S. Congress standing arm in arm singing “God bless America” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol shortly after the attack.  I remember the first time I saw American flags hanging from the highway overpasses as a sign of unity, not just strength. I remember the silence of empty skies with all commercial flights grounded for a time and how deafening the engines sounded when they returned. I remember seeing Muslims gathered for prayers in open spaces, people I had no idea were in my community. They were weeping with grief and lament and were just as horrified as I was.

I remember for a moment when the political divide at the time (which seems so tame now) was put on pause. It felt like as a people we were all on the same page in mourning the loss of the innocent, investigating what happened, seeking to prevent it from happening again, and knowing it would take all of us working together as neighbors and citizens to protect our borders from those who might do us harm. At the time we also viewed the attack as an assault on our values of opportunity, freedom, decency, diversity, the rule of law, the protection of rights, the value of each person and the expansion of democratic principles in the world. 9/11 has brought to light some incredible heroism, patriotism, and sacrifice by our people not only that day but in the seventeen years since.

The years since 2001 has also brought to light our more selfish nature as we have moved away from those values. Recent years have brought out into the open an increase in fear based rhetoric, blame, racism and xenophobia. It has become common to distrust one another, our government, our elected officials, our allies and our role in the world. Our citizenry openly questions one another’s patriotism if we disagree or speak up when we do not live up to our ideals. We demand blind allegiance and know only perpetual war. We put each other down rather than build each other up. We cry foul and undermine free speech. We shout out of anger and have stopped listening. We are afraid of the “other” and of one another. We are not who we were seventeen years ago.

I wonder about that too. I pray about that too.

As an American, I join those who remember those who died seventeen years ago today, as I also give thanks for those who continue to put their lives in harm’s way for the sake of our nation and the democracy we hope can be beacon of freedom in this fear mongering, power seeking world. I think about my neighbors, friends  and the people I care about personally. I consider how I can help in the community in which I live. I smile when I consider this amazing eclectic tapestry that is this odd country called the United States.

As a leader of a faith community, I keep thinking about how we might be a people of healing, peace, justice, love, hope, forgiveness and joy in a world consumed by rage, suffering and pain. I lament those moments where people of faith have only added fuel to the fire rather than calm things down. I repent of those times when it was me stoking things up. I seek to do better; love stronger; and rely more and more on the grace I claim to believe in that is ultimately not about me or my efforts but focus on the God who gives it so freely.

As a parent and spouse, I wonder about the world we are giving to our kids, how we might prepare them to not only succeed in it, but also not grow too cynical in life. I hope they can contribute to what is ‘good‘ in this beautiful mess we call humanity on planet earth.

Today I wonder and pray the most about that.


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“Be opened” a sermon on Mark 7:24-37


Sermon on Mark 7:24-37
“Be Opened”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Sunday is Coming! “Who is Jesus?” Mark 8:27-38

“Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27b)

It may seem simple to ask: “Who is Jesus?” – but such a query can generate a multiplicity of responses.

One might answer by examining the symbol that framed his life and ministry – the cross; a tool of torture, fear, shame and execution by the Roman occupiers.

One might discuss Jesus based on the stories we know of his teaching and healing, found in the four Gospels of the New Testament.

One might contemplate the significance of his name, ‘Jesus’ (he will save); or his title ‘Christ’ (anointed one) means for an individual, a community, or the history of Israel.

One might frame twenty-centuries of reflection, creeds, statements, theology and practice by the expansion and ministry of the Christian Church in all its forms around the planet; or how a particular Christian tradition (i.e. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism) continues to express itself based on its understanding of Jesus in the context of its own history and culture.

One might ask how other religious traditions outside of Christianity (including modern secularism) view Jesus and his significance to human culture and development.

One might dig deeper into this question by asking questions about the historical context of his life and ministry in first century Roman Palestine, the Messianic longing among the populace at the time, the religious establishment throughout Judea as it related to the empire, how people back then heard and understood the prophets, and other historical topics of interest.

Each of these areas of study would prove useful for a fruitful examination of Jesus of Nazareth for either a group or an individual person. However, the only question that matters is the one that Jesus himself asks us to consider: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

His disciples gave a variety of answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets, the Messiah (Mark 8:28-29). Why they might have given those responses, and why it was important for Mark to include them in this story as it is recorded and passed along to us all these years later would also be of interest to investigate.

Yet the question Jesus aims directly at you – is the most valuable: “But who do you say that I am?

Keep seeking him, and share what you discover along the way.



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Sunday is coming! “Jesus goes on a mission trip” Mark 7:24-37

Be opened.” (Mark 7:34b)

The setting for these two healing stories takes place in Tyre, Sidon (in modern-day Lebanon) and the Decapolis (in modern-day Jordan) among foreign people outside the boundaries of Israel, beyond Galilee, and beyond the fight Jesus just had with the religious authorities (Mark 7:1-23).

What seems odd in this passage is that in the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, it is Jesus who seems to be the one holding back from engagement. For whatever reason, Jesus deviates from his own principles of opening the kingdom to the outsider, the voiceless, and those judged by everyone else by his dismissive tone. The Syrophoenician woman begs Jesus to help her daughter, and he appears reluctant to give it. There is a bit of snark and banter in their exchange about the crumbs from the table being thrown to the dogs (Mark 7:27-28) but by taking Jesus to task, she moves him to do the right thing in healing the girl. Jesus opens himself to new possibilities and power in his ministry as he heals the girl from a distance (Mark 7:29-30). Jesus is then emboldened to heal the deaf man in the Decapolis (Mark 7:31-37); feed 4000 (Mark 8:1-10); argue with the Pharisees about their demand for a sign (Mark 8:11-21); and heal a blind man (Mark 8:22-26); all before we catch up with him again in next week’s reading where he asks his disciples who they think he is and he tells them that his mission will lead to the cross, his death and resurrection (Mark 8:27-38).

Mission trips and service opportunities have a way of reminding us of what is important when other things get in the way and cloud our focus. The gospel is always calling us beyond where we might feel comfortable to do what is right and see our greater purpose in God’s world. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ – only those God loves and draws together.

While this story is about Jesus, it could easily be about us all these centuries later. When we feel uncomfortable about being stretched beyond ourselves for the sake of others, it sometimes takes a nudge from somebody to see our common humanity. Whenever we experience our inter-connectedness anew, God opens us up to new ways of being and living together. We may discover that those ‘outsiders’ we fear or try to ignore have just as much (or more) to offer us than we could do for them – but we’ll never know until we open ourselves to find out.

Jesus’ ministry is made better by engaging those outside of his regular circle of relationships. Our lives and ministry will be too.

Who are the new people in your neighborhood, school or workplace?

What is keeping you from befriending them?



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“Getting our hands dirty” Mission Trip: New Haven, Mark 7


Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“Getting our hands dirty”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

Posted in Church & Mission, Discovery, Faith Everyday, Mission Trip Reflections, on Gospel of Mark, Sermons | Tagged ,

Sunday is Coming! “Keeping Your Hands Dirty” Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

So the Pharisees and the scribes asked (Jesus), ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:5)

Then (Jesus) called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in that can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’” (Mark 7:14-15)

Jesus is not advocating that we don’t need to wash our hands, do the dishes or tidy up the spaces we are responsible for keeping clean (sorry kids). Our old saying ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ still seems like a worthy idea to pursue in an age where we have a greater understanding of microbiology and human health than people likely did in the first century. Yet ‘uncleanliness’ is the wall Jesus breaks down in this encounter.

Jesus confronts the religious leaders’ understanding of purity laws (that have more to do with projecting their disgust of certain people than about washing our hands and dishes). When we (or our things) are physically dirty – we can be washed, restored and made whole again. When our very humanity is deemed ‘unclean’ by others – we can be vilified for simply being who we are or by the burdens we carry. This is what the religious establishment was doing in Jesus’ time. Those who likely needed help the most were deemed ‘unclean’ and were to be avoided and/or shamed. (There are good parallels to how the religious establishment operates today in our own time and context!)

Jesus insists that what makes us ‘unclean’ is not who we are, the circumstances we face, or if we don’t wash or hands or not (BTW – please, wash your hands). What makes us truly ‘unclean’ is the way in which we treat one another, act selfishly and blame one another for our problems.

Jesus’ opponents justify their position based on tradition. Sometimes our call to purity is more harmful than good; even within our initially well-intended conventions. I find it personally empowering to remember that customs and time honored practices started for good reasons, usually to solve a current crisis at the time by making a decision to act and trying something to address it. Traditions are often the success stories of fruitful actions. What becomes a problem is when we lose ‘why’ we do what we do (or why we did it in the first place) and make it our purpose to preserve things the way we do what we do simply because it is what we have inherited. We often think it is our duty not to change anything – and equate change as failure; even when the circumstances dictate new strategies and actions.

When faced with traditions that no longer function the way they may have in the past (but did they?); could we consider it possible that our current set of circumstances, assets and understanding would lead us to meet the challenge differently now?

What do we let get in the way?

Jesus spent time with the outcast, the poor, the sinners, the sick, the possessed, the untouchables and all the people deemed ‘unclean’ by the wider community. In Mark 7 that will include gentiles as well. By his actions and his call to follow him, Jesus is revealing to us – if you are going to be part of the restorative kingdom – it is going to require you to get your hands dirty!

How willing are you to get your hands dirty in the kingdom with Jesus?


Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Sunday is Coming!