Friday, March 27, 2020

Help Holy Cross Help Our Community.

Dear Holy Cross family,


I pray that you are safe, well and are finding ways to be at peace with the situation we find ourselves in during these turbulent days. I also hope that you realize it is for times like these that God has given us the gift of faith.

I am writing to ask for your prayers and help. As we are not meeting we have no way of collecting our Sunday offering which is our largest source of revenue, I would ask you to prayerfully consider either donating via:

Our website at http://holycrossnj.com/donate/ (Please consider setting up a recurring donation by setting up a PayPal account if you don’t already have one)

Or, by mailing at check to Holy Cross 639 Mountain Ave. Springfield NJ 07081


Your support at this time will go a long way to helping us make a difference in the lives of those whom we serve by providing them with the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I realize that many are frightened for their economic future and others like us will have a dramatic loss of revenue. We are not asking you to consider sharing what you do not actually have but only out of that which you do.

The principle of tithing is that you share a percentage, if you have less then you give less. I do hope that whatever you give is given freely and lifts your spirit by being an act of hope that we will be the church we are called by God to be.

We at Holy Cross are here for you, we can listen, pray and find ways to help so together we may endure the challenge set before us. In these days of social distancing we are trying to keep our community engaged in the following ways:

1.  Our elders are reaching out to congregation members daily

2. I can be reached at his direct extension 973-379-4525 x204 and at pastork@holycrossnj.org at all times.

3. Worship Sunday 10 AM via Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/HolyCrossNJ/

4. Recorded YouTube Video and Audio File posted Sunday after worship at http://holycrossnj.com/blog/

5. Wednesday Noon Prayers and Meditation via Facebook Live at the above address.

6. Wednesday Evening Bible Study 7:30 PM  https://us04web.zoom.us/j/453894977 or dial in +1 929 436 2866 US (New York) Meeting ID: 453 894 977

Finally, I thought these words from the Apostle Paul were helpful to me. 

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:15-18 (NRSV) 

Stay safe, be blessed and keep the Faith,

Pastor Knecht

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Lent 2020 Our Beautiful Savior


Perhaps my favorite traditional hymn is Beautiful Savior. I must admit that it may be so meaningful to me because it is simple, easy to memorize and easy to sing. The first verse goes:



Beautiful Savior, King of Creation,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Truly I'd love Thee, Truly I'd serve Thee,
Light of my soul, my Joy, my Crown

The unknown writer makes direct and astonishing claims about Jesus. Jesus is King of all in the universe and is the son of God as well as humanity. These are what a Christian theologian would call credal formulas, they make a statement of what the community believes about God.  This is why I am using this simple song to frame our study together as a congregation this lent.  Lent was originally a time in the early church where new believers would be instructed to prepare for their baptism. The core of that instruction is found in the church's creeds. The hymn Beautiful Savior focuses on the most basic aspect of those creeds, which is that Jesus is Lord.  

Lord of My Life 

The stanza continues "truly I'd love thee, truly I'd serve thee". The hymn does not just make a claim about Jesus, it lays an imperative upon the believer.  It echoes the call Martin Luther made to the church when he explained the first of the Ten Commandments. "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things."  This is exactly how I like to frame Lent. It is our annual period of re-commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We begin with Ash Wednesday reminding us of our own mortality and sinfulness, and we end with Good Friday where Jesus conquers those two things on the cross. 

The goal of the season is to remind ourselves to place God above all things once again. We set the time apart to do this, so that we make sure that we will do it.  If we don't schedule it, the cares of the world, the lure of wealth, the attraction of attention or seduction of self-absorption will crowd out what little space remains for our God in our lives.  If we neglect God we neglect life, so taking time to be with God means embracing a life of purpose, meaning, and peace.  Therefore, our practices effect God less than they do us. They have been given by the Holy Spirit for our benefit. 

Savior of All 

Jesus is the only hope we have when we look at the reality of the world we live in today. The second stanza makes the claim that Jesus is above nature. Nature worship is very common among people of all times and places in part because to the beauty God endowed it. The hymn writer continues. 

Fair are the meadows, Fair are the woodlands,
Robed in flowers of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer;
He makes our sorrowing spirit sing  

God's creation is indeed beautiful, but like human beings it has been subjected to sin and brokenness (see Romans 8). All one needs to do is see the headlines in one's news feed to see that this is true.  To depend upon nature to heal us is to put our trust in something mortal like us.To place our hope in Jesus is to hold out for God's healing. The third stanza will continue to show how Jesus is more powerful than the heavens, while the last stanza states: 

Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, Praise, adoration,
Now and forevermore be Thine!

As Lord of the nations, Jesus is more powerful than any human structure. In my lifetime, which is an historical blink of an eye, I have seen many things that were thought to be permanent come and go. Much of the distress I see in the lives of those whom I serve comes from the fact that jobs, institutions and ways of life thought to be stable were found to be remarkably fragile.  The concept of "disruption" is the contemporary darling of business schools and economists, what is that but the breaking down of that which people formally relied upon. It is why we must re-commit to our faith in the eternal, so we may have strength to help each other deal with the present. 

This Lent we are making an active call to love Christ above all things, and that be doing so we may serve and follow him no matter how uncertain life may seem to be. It is my hope that we can all confess with the apostle Paul "for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him." 2 Timothy 1:12 (NRSV) 

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Where can I find God's Kingdom?

Jesus begins his ministry with the a simple invitation. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:15 NRSV) 

I want to talk about where to find God's kingdom rather than when. Many people over the centuries have been focused on the timing of God's Kingdom.   They see that when Jesus uses the word near he was talking about time, but what if Jesus was using the word in its other sense in order to talk about space. What if Jesus meant that the Kingdom of God is close?   It's right here, you can find it if you look.

Since the earliest gathering of the church the core Christian confession about Christ is that "Jesus is Lord."  He is the king.   As Jesus debates with Pilate in the Gospel of John, one of the things that Pilate seems to misunderstand is where Jesus is the King of.   For Pilate the Roman politician the only reason anyone could claim to be a king is because they actually have a kingdom.  Jesus replies  “My kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36 NRSV)  The grammar matters; Jesus speaks about the kingdom in present tense, therefore it already exists.  You may well ask,  if as Jesus says. his kingdom is not from this world, then how can it be close to us spatially? 

When Jesus spoke about God's kingdom being not from this world he appears to be explaining that the nature of it is different than anything else we experience in this life.  We can infer this because Jesus himself asks a rhetorical question about God's kingdom   “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?" (Mark 4:30 NRSV) He then uses a variety of parables from a variety of life experiences to help us grasp the mystery.  It is the fact that God's kingdom is such a singular phenomenon that we might miss where we can actually find it.

One thing we can not do is bring about the kingdom on our terms.  We must find the kingdom on God's terms.   It is God who gives the kingdom.   A parable such as the seed growing secretly points this out.  "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how." (Mark 4:26-27 NRSV)

Some may say that we can not find it in this life, it is in the afterlife.   But when I read a verse such as   “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NRSV) this limited view of the kingdom seems to make little sense.   Instead, from my reading of the Gospels I see that kingdom includes both this life and the next.   The next life, like this life is a component of God's kingdom.  So, part of the good news of the kingdom is that we do not have to wait until we die to see it. 

So where can we find the kingdom?  The answer is simple, find the king and you will find the kingdom.  We know that king is found wherever the body of Christ is found.  In other words,  the kingdom is not so much a place as a people.  Jesus explains  Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29 NRSV). 

The two metaphors for the kingdom fully experienced (which is what heaven really is) are the great feast and the great worship.   The feast was Jesus' primary metaphor for the complete kingdom.  John of Patmos gave the church the vision of worship as a metaphor in the final book of the Bible.   The thing that holds these two visions of the kingdom together is the faithful gathered.  A great church service in this life can be a "foretaste of the feast to come."   Now I realize that church services (even at my own church) are not always great, however one can always catch glimpses.  One can grab hold of the reality that the kingdom is close. 

Additionally. worship is only one of many ways that the faithful gather.  We gather for study, fellowship, and service as well, and the kingdom promise works when or wherever the faithful gather to love God and neighbor.  The hope that the kingdom is near to me, you, and anyone in this world is good news in the midst of the strife that we experience in this world.   I invite you to come along with us this November and find how close God's kingdom really is.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Friday, October 4, 2019

Blessings: The Strength for the Fight

We often misunderstand what blessings are.   Most people focus on blessings as a result of some action on our part.   We think we are blessed because we did… (insert a random pious action here).  But Jesus turns this all on its head in the Sermon on the Mount.  Mathew Chapters 5-7 are Jesus’ most important teaching about how people should live out a life that is faithful to God, world, and neighbor.   Jesus’ manifesto in Matthew 5 not only focuses on blessings as a result of following God, but also more importantly, as gifts from God to follow God.   Blessings are grace.  Blessings are also the fuel that helps us in the daily fight of living in a broken and sinful word.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus directly contradicts the pagan messages of the so called “prosperity gospel” or the American cultural idea of “the power of positive thinking.”   We are given encouragement to be honest with ourselves and our real situation in life.   The times when things are not going right, and we are losing heart, are precisely the times when God promises to come.  Jesus reminds us elsewhere that he came not for the righteous but the sinners.  To paraphrase, not for those who stuff is together, but those whose lives are falling apart.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Grief and loss are part of living in a world in bondage to death, blessings are that which God gives us so that we do not give into despair.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is for those times when we experience the most profound losses.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” 

We are culturally conditioned to honor the assertive, aggressive, and narcissistic.  Celebrities, athletes and CEO’s have replaced Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite and Apollo in our modern pagan pantheon.  We would rather choose a celebrity to lord it over us than a committed public servant. In contrast, God honors the humble, empowers the kind, and inspires those who consider the lives of others as well as themselves.  Because we can’t love our neighbors if no one even bother to think about them.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Those who want things to improve are working for the healing of our world, therefore why wouldn’t God bless them to continue their important work?  These are the people we don’t like while they are alive and lionize when they are dead.  In order to fix things, we must do things, and our laziness demands we put targets on these people’s backs. Those who work for justice are God’s allies in the healing of our world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

Mercy is how God chooses to engage us.  When we show mercy, we conform our lives to Christ.  We often don’t like mercy because it is inherently unfair, we are letting someone off the hook.  Yet as the incarnation reminds us, God choose maintaining a relationship over abstract fairness.   Without mercy we remain in a prison of our own making.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

If we can’t see the good in our world, our fellow human beings. and life itself, it will be hard to see God because God is good.   When we give into cynicism, we build a wall around ourselves neighbors and world.  The pure heart keeps the door open to the good and therefore God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Jesus was sent by God to put a fractured world, broken communities and divided hearts back together.   The Hebrew/Aramaic word for peace that Jesus used meant to be whole.   Those who do and make peace help make people, families, communities and nations whole.  They are blessed because they are part of the healing.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Our society and often even our churches will not honor those who are the most faithful; we will judge others using our own fallible criteria.   So, we need a Godly vision, lest we perish, and that vision is the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Apostle Paul writes: And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 2 Corinthians 5:15 (NRSV) The Kingdom of God is predicated on a single common humanity.  This core idea of our faith is under direct assault.  Those who work for it are persecuted and abused, yet they keep up the fight.  They are able to because they are blessed.  Blessing is the fuel for our Spiritual warfare, so be blessed and keep the faith.

Pastor Knecht



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Jeremiah: God's Voice for His Time and Ours

What do you do when the world you grew up in changes beyond all recognition?   What do you do when the institutions that you have relied upon appear to be breaking apart?   What do you do when your society is threatened by forces that are beyond your control?  How can one go on when your community is devouring itself through conflict?  These are all questions the prophet Jeremiah wrestled with as he followed God's call to bring God's Word to a people in crisis. 

The prophet Jeremiah was called to be God's voice to the people of Israel while their society was falling apart from within and being assailed from without by the superpowers of the day.  As a prophet, he was not called so much to predict the future, but rather tell the truth about what God was doing right in the moment Israel was living through.   This was no easy task for him then, or us today.  As a prophet who served in trying times, Jeremiah has much to say to anyone facing adversity now.   

At times, Jeremiah would be called to bring a hard word that told people where they were going astray and accelerating the decline of their community, such as when he spoke:  "But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit." Jeremiah 2:11 (NRSV).  Jeremiah would often face the anger of the community because of the message he had to bring.   He would lament his isolation from, and ostracization by his community.  Other times, Jeremiah would be caught up in the conflicts of a divided society.  One faction, angry that he had chosen the wrong side, would abduct him and take him into exile in Egypt. (Chapter 43) What the community could not realize as it lived into its worst fears, is the love that Jeremiah had for God and the people he served.  Jeremiah suffered because he loved his people and his land and would not give up on either. 

Yet, through all of this adversity Jeremiah remains a prophet of hope.   When the chips are down, he puts his money where his mouth is and invests in his community. (chapter 32)  When given the offer to seek safety in Babylon, he decides to follow God stay with the people in Jerusalem despite the risk. (chapter 40) He ends up being abducted (chapter 43) because he tells the people not to flee, but to trust in the power of God.  He gives messages of hope to those who have been exiled to Babylon, to open their eyes to the power of God's Spirit, which is stronger than any of the forces of the age.  

This hope is culminated in Jeremiah's vision of a New Covenant written on people's hearts where they no longer have to guess what God's thinking because they will know God with an intimacy we can only imagine.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:33 (NRSV)

So, if you have courage to look at where the faults of our time may be and if you have the desire to find hope in surprising places, I invite you to follow the story of Jeremiah with us this fall in worship and study.   For in our time we are seeing pressures from without and pressures from within that threaten to devour us and our world.  Yet, like the prophet we hold onto the promise of healing (chapter 8).  I pray that by reading, contemplating, studying and praying about God's Voice in the time of Jeremiah we can find the hope of what God may be saying to us today.  Come along with us at Holy Cross Sundays 10 AM this fall. 

Be blessed 

Pastor Knecht 





Friday, June 14, 2019

Pastor's Annual Report to Holy Cross 2019

Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV) “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I would like to thank everyone who contributes their time, effort and prayers for the sake of our ministry together.   I realize that with all the transitions going on within our church it can make it hard to figure out what to do to help.   So, I appreciate everyone who has stuck with us over the past year as we prepare for our new model of ministry in partnership with Lutheran Social Ministries.   Even though it has been a year that has been spent in waiting for something new to happen, we have still accomplished much together.   As you read the contributions from our ministry leaders contained in this report, you will see that God is doing wonderful things at Holy Cross with and through you. 

I also want to thank you for contributing financially to our ministry.  Right now, is one of the most critical times for our church financially.   We can see the light at the end of the tunnel when we will have new model of ministry, where our 2002 building will be transformed from an object of ministry into a resource for ministry.    The rental payments, utilities costs and the covering of half of my salary by Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey will place our congregation on solid fiscal ground.   More importantly, it can model to other churches a new way of doing ministry in a time when the role of the church is rapidly changing in society.  Your gifts will help make this happen by helping us navigate the transition, which will last until early next year.   Please consider increasing your weekly giving for the summer to help us make the transition easier.  A one time gift this summer would be another way to help prepare us for future fruitfulness.

During this past year we have said goodbye to some old faces and said hello to some new ones, so our worship attendance remained relatively stable.   Our Nursery School ministry has been stable during the past few years, but there may be some challenges to overcome as it will have to adapt to the new use of our space.

It has been a joy to see our youth grow into using their gift for the glory of God.   Our elders have done a wonderful job in leading our food ministry to Springfield to help our neighbors in need.   Our women’s bible study has been faithfully reestablished, and we look forward to a new men’s Bible study starting in the coming months.    We have combined our confirmation ministry with St. Mark’s in Morristown, which gives our young people a larger and more fun group to work with.    We will be looking for other opportunities to partner with other churches for a more fruitful ministry. 
Most of the year has been a time in between our past and the new reality that God is giving birth to.  I am very excited about the possibilities for ministry by partnering with the PACE program of Union county.    It will provide an opportunity to help those in need and be a chance for our congregation to use our gifts for God’s purpose. 

An important piece of the plan is that I will serve as both Chaplain for the PACE program and Pastor of our Congregation.   This means that we will be offering some worship and bible study opportunities during the week that members of our congregation can participate in.   I am also hopeful that by working with families in critical times of their lives, we will have the ability to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in new ways that offer people peace now and the hope of the better life to come in the Kingdom of Heaven.

I chose the verses from Matthew in the hope is that by moving in the direction that God has shown we can let our light shine before those in our neighborhood so that God may be glorified.   In this time of uncertainty nothing is needed more for the health of our community than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   We are called to bring God’s people together from every generation, ethnicity, and identity so that we can glorify the one who has given us life.  Our proclamation will gain traction only if we act out Jesus’ message of hope as well as speak about it.   In the Bible and the history of the church when these work in concert God does great things.   I pray that God is leading us to place where our worship is powerful and our service compassionate and effective.

Thank you for being part of our community.  I am very blessed by everyone who is part of our church family and I look forward to the great future that God is doing with us.

Respectfully Submitted in Jesus Christ,

Pastor Knecht



Thursday, May 2, 2019

Is Christ an Avenger?

With all the buzz about the latest Marvel Avengers film about, I recently noticed a meme in my social media feed that portrayed Jesus as an avenger.  It even had him dressed in a superhero costume. I'm sure this is all just some good clean fun!   However, until archaeologists dig up said costume, I will assume Jesus didn't really have one.  The verse quoted in the meme is:

 that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things,1 Thessalonians 4:6 (NRSV)

This is the only time that Paul or any other New Testament writer calls Christ an avenger.  Jesus never speaks of himself using this term.

An a avenger is one who brings vengeance, and the Bible has much to say on this topic. For example St. Paul writes:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:19-21 (NRSV)

So vengeance is the province of God and does not belong to us.  So one can speak of God and Jesus as avengers only in the sense that ultimate justice is determined by God.  Looking at some of the other ways we describe Christ might help us see why the term may not really explain who Christ really is. 

The first confession of the early followers of Christ was to call him "Lord". This was the confession that Christ is sovereign and one with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   Avengers are reactive. They are responding to the actions of others.  When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are confessing that God is in control.   The outcome is assured. God is acting first for the salvation of all and we are the one's responding to events initiated by God.  In superhero movies like the Avengers series, they are never in control of events they are reacting and surviving.

The followers of Christ, shortly after his resurrection began to call Jesus "Savior." Jesus doesn't merely avenge,  Christ saves. Salvation looks very different than vengeance.  Vengeance is temporary and cyclical, it only lasts until the next slight.   Salvation is permanent and eternal; it breaks the cycle of sin and retribution.  Vengeance is about hurting the perpetrator back and causing wounds as payback.  Salvation is healing and making whole.  Vengeance is filled with anxiety while salvation is peace in every sense of the word. Vengeance kills, but salvation gives life.

So the central witness of Scripture shows that Christ is God's Son who is sovereign and wills that all who believe will be saved.   God jealously holds on to vengeance because of its destructiveness, while Christ offers salvation freely because it renews, redeems and restores people and things.  Scripture teaches us that God is Justice and God determines what Justice is.   While vengeance may be a tool in bringing about Justice, it is rough and incomplete one.   It can only get one so far.

This is clearly seen in the only instance I could find where God was called an avenger in the Old Testament.  The verse is in Psalm 99.

O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Psalms 99:8 (NRSV)


The psalmist is describing God as the King who loves and is committed to Justice.  In this psalm the avenger is also the forgiver.   God drives out the evil but restores the relationship with the evil doer.  The psalmist then advocates that our appropriate response to this is worship.   This theme is picked up in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St.John.   In your Bible you may notice that Christ is called that "Almighty'.   This is the English translation of the Greek term ὁ παντοκράτωρ which really means ruler of all.  The Bible concludes with a picture of God's promised salvation in the new heaven and earth that requires no sequel.

So, is Christ an avenger? Well, yes he is, but He is so much more. I pray that you may nurture your faith by seeking out God through your interaction with Scripture.   This way your picture of God will be defined by the Word of God Himself and not merely the culture.  For we have a Lord and we have a Savior for whom a costume is not necessary.

Be blessed