|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 23, 2018 at 12:15 AM|
We started our day at Rippling Hope- with some folks finishing up building a wall at our house from yesterday They were pretty much beaming with pride when it was done and I understand why- our students built a wall by themselves!
The rest of us helped take down some shelves from Rippling Hope’s former headquarters in a church so they could install it in their new headquarters- a former bank building that was donated to them. (We got to explore the safe and the safety deposit boxes!) And then we cleaned up sticks to keep the bank building property in good shape. It wasn’t glamorous work, but we are helping make the space ready to welcome groups like us when the weather get warmer. And we are helping Carl and his wife Robin welcome others as warmly as they have welcomed us. And that stuff matters.
Carl also shared with us a little more about how crucial Rippling Hope’s work is even in neighborhoods that are stable. Many of the folks in Detroit are long-term homeowners who are elderly. When they pass away, sometimes their homes are left vacant when family doesn’t want to keep them up. Other times family moves in and are often not positive forces in the neighborhood. Once a few houses are left vacant, people are less likely to move into that neighborhood and it can easily turn the tide of the entire community. The small work we do to help keep up homes has ripples we can’t imagine.
And Carl reminded us that just our coming here to hear people’s stories and walk along beside them for awhile brings hope. And reminds people that they are not forgotten. Being neighbors to one another matters. Listening to each other matters. Changing others’ ideas about Detroit matters.
And that’s a good thing to hear as we left this afternoon. These trips are full and exhausting and we’re ready to go home, but they also seem too short to make any difference. They seem too short to hear people’s stories well. They seem too short to matter, sometimes. So it was good to be reminded that the hope we receive and the hope we bring ripples outward.
This afternoon we headed back to Pittsburgh (with some of us stopping at North America’s largest candy store on the way) and got back to the Lutheran University Center, where Pastor Brian and the students fed us and let us join in a service of Holden Evening Prayer. We heard the words of Jesus that remind us to take up our cross and follow. And the Lutheran University Center has a cross that has people sitting inside it and on it. Tonight I imagine the folks we met in Detroit in that cross- that cross that calls us to risk for the sake of love and life. We didn't meet perfect people, but we met people who are willing to take risks for the life of their city.
Later our group shared the stories that we will bring back with us this week:
• Making beauty out of discarded items in the Heidelberg Project
• Seeing their story in the folks we met at Church of the Messiah and being inspired by what God is doing there.
• Having their perception of Detroit radically changed and being called to tell that story
• and hopefully return
• The resilience of the people of Detroit and their way of “making a way of out of no way”- taking things on themselves when government and industry doesn’t
And we prayed together- with one of our students so excited to have the words to the Lord’s Prayer in front of him so he could finally pray the whole thing with us. And our students lifted up the needs of the world and the names of those we met this week. The ones who feel like family. The ones for whom we thank God. The ones we hope God will keep working through powerfully.
As we say goodbye to Detroit and head home, we bring part of the hope with us to a place not unlike Detroit. So often this week we talked about the similarities (and differences) between Baltimore and Detroit. So we know that we go back to some of the same problems. But we also go back to some inspiring people who are bringing hope in places that need it. And our job is to seek them out, amplify their work and follow their lead. God’s up to stuff in Baltimore, too. And hopefully God will use us well in that work.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 22, 2018 at 12:40 AM|
Today we joined in the work of Rippling Hope, an organization created by Carl Zerweck about 8 years ago to mobilize volunteers to do home repair projects. He works with neighborhood associations and block clubs to make this work happen- having these groups distribute applications for repairs. This helps the associations connect with neighbors and allows them some say in which projects get moved forward. They choose about 300 projects each year to accomplish and have groups like ours come to do the work.
Today we worked just outside city limits in Dearborn Heights with Barb and Joe. They have lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, raised their kids there, and obviously love their community. They have begun a neighborhood garden with about 12 raised beds and a butterfly shaped garden and are applying for grants to help make a park across the street for neighborhood kids. And whenever they have a chance, they support work in the neighborhood. And so do their neighbors- 3 different neighbors came to help out as we were replacing a fence around the garden.
Some years ago, there were un-housed folks who were staying on a vacant lot and the police in the area asked the neighborhood for help in getting them housed. Barb knew a neighbor whose mom had passed away still had mom’s house sitting empty. And they asked if they could use it. And he shared the house for free. Just because he can and someone else needs it.
And today we helped, just because we could. We hung drywall in an old house- adapting to the quirks of an old house and the reality of our non-professional selves. It wasn’t perfect, but it was profoundly good. To be given the privilege to serve. To be used well for others. To have a solid wall put up where they wasn’t one. And the young girl who lived in the house thanked us by drawing each of us pictures of a house- knowing that she is thankful for the work being done. This is what it means to be a community- to help when we can and be grateful when we receive the gifts of others. And we are glad that the people God gave us to be in community with happen to be wherever we are.
Some other students helped build a new set of stairs to the basement with the help of Tom, one of the most gracious and patient folks we’ve met. He mentored our students and let them do the work and gave us the opportunity to make the house safer for all the future residents that may live there. And the rest of us cleaned up the yard for the girl to be able to play outside when it gets warmer. And burned up the brush in a bonfire that we were grateful to gather around when it was so cold.
This evening, we had dinner at Carl’s house with Oliver Cole, the president of the Grandmont1 Improvement Association, a local neighborhood association, and his wife Denise, who is active in local politics. Denise- a Detroit native- loves this city with a passion. She has seen it in its hard times and deeply wants to be a part of its rebuilding. And Oliver is someone who is willing to speak hard words to politicians to remind them they are public servants and they need to respond to the needs of the communities they serve. They talked about their frustration with some realities of Detroit politics- where there are too many legacies and too many decisions (like development downtown) are made for folks who don’t make up much of the city.
Oliver talked about his neighborhood- a mix of new arrivals and many elderly folks who have lived in their neighborhood for 50+ years. He talked about the need to do what we can to help them remain in their homes. He talked about the tenacity of folks who continue to live life and plant flowers and raise kids and grandkids even on blocks where only 2 homes are left. These are the real Detroiters for him. These are the hope. And we just need a whole new group of folks to move in and learn from them- learn to make the city again.
After being so immersed in the city for the past 5 days, it feels like we can actually begin to understand some of what makes it tick, some of the joy that people see in it, and can dispel many of the stereotypes of what Detroit is.
These words from the prophet Haggai were the appointed Bible verses for today- “Speak now . . . to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. . . The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former . . .and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:1-24)
They are words spoken to a different people in a different time, but they seem like a prayer for Detroit. A reminder that God calls us to work and not to fear. To trust that God’s presence goes beside us when we work for life and for justice. And to believe beyond everything that our God has a habit of brining good in places we don’t think it’s likely.
Tomorrow we will work for our last day, for God is with us and the neighborhood we visit.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 21, 2018 at 12:55 AM|
The Greening of Detroit is an organization that began as a response to the loss of trees between the 1950s and the 1980s. Now the group works with community groups and block clubs to sponsor tree plantings and create neighborhood gardens and also trains people in landscaping as job preparation. And as their showplace, they maintain a food garden in downtown Detroit to introduce folks to what they do and provide a beautiful place for the city. They also produce food for local food pantries and community feeding programs.
And when it’s 30-some degrees outside, they invite Baltimoreans to help them get that downtown garden ready for the beginning of the growing season. It was a chilly morning to be pulling up old plants, raking leaves, and picking up trash, but many hands make light work. And under the dead plants, our students were delighted to find flowers poking up. Life hidden among the things that were decaying. It was a good reminder as we drive through neighborhoods have been neglected, where people have left, where folks don’t have access to water and other city services- that life still lives there. And it fights back. And part of our job is to take away all that hides it and makes it hard to grow.
Urban gardening has taken off in Detroit because there’s an abundance of vacant land. A city that once had 1.8 million people now has 600,000 so there’s sometimes 2 houses on a block with tons of empty space in between. Which means it’s a perfect place for artists and gardeners to come in and take over. And in a place where services like grocery stores can be few and far between, gardens bring healthy food back to neighborhoods and provide employment for folks.
And then it was off to Church of the Messiah, which calls itself a non-traditional Episcopal church, to chat with Pastor Barry, Dwight and JT. Church of the Messiah gathers around 300 folks for Sunday worship, with about 60% of those folks being black males under 30. It seems pretty obvious that folks come to worship here because the gospel comes alive here.
Pastor Barry’s sermons- which can get a little theatrical and unorthodox at times to make a point, bring the gospel in words that make sense in their lives. Like the time he likened developing a relationship with God to developing a relationship with alcohol or smoking or all that other things that aren’t great at first, but when we stick with them, they become a powerful habit.
(That's Pastor Barry down front)
But as we heard JT and Dwight talk, it was obvious that the gospel comes alive in the way young people are rejoiced in, supported and believed in. They are believed to have potential before they show it, kind of how Jesus loves us even before we possibly deserve it. They do gospel rather than just preach gospel and that seems to have gotten into the bones of Dwight and JT.
JT was having a hard time as a high schooler and soon after coming here, adopted one of the members as his a mentor and father-figure. That’s what he said kept him in school and got him to head to college. And he talked with joy about how this church made Jesus someone he could understand and want to be around, after other church had bored him. The gospel was real- through the people and the Jesus talk that finally made sense.
Dwight changed his life after coming to Church of the Messiah and now runs I AM productions, making videos to tell positive stories in the neighborhood and promotional videos for folks starting up new businesses. He wanted to name his company after something he learned in church, taking the name from the moment that God gave his name to Moses. It was a moment meant to steady Moses and make him strong enough for the work before him.
The video production company is only one business among many- there’s a clothing line, a leather craft shop, a bike shop, a line of ginger drinks and more- all businesses begun at Church of the Messiah thanks to people who believe in the dreams of their young people and throw all their resources at supporting them. “It’s all ministry,” Pastor Barry told us. “The marching band, the bike repair, the video production. It’s all ministry.”
Pastor Barry reminded us that believing in impossible things is a Christian reality. If we can believe in a virgin conceiving a child, we can certainly believe that a young person can start up a bike shop. They believe and they do not fear. This is what the gospel calls us to, above all our objections.
The church also has a Community Development Corporation that owns 213 units of housing and makes sure that it remains at market rates that allow current neighbors to not be priced out of the area when luxury apartments move in (as they are doing now.) They also own 103 other lots in the neighborhood and will only sell them to those who intend to use those lots for the good of the community.
On the way back from Church of the Messiah, we visited the Heidelberg Project- a large public art installation started in 1986 by Tyree Guyton, an artist who had lost 3 brothers to street violence and was devastated by the crime and drug filled street he grew up on. He painted on houses and sidewalks and involved neighborhood kids in making art out of discarded materials. The shoes everywhere symbolize those lost to street violence and the MANY clocks remind us that it’s time to change the reality of the city. It’s been cleaned by the city, opposed by many, been burned by arsonists, and a victim of the elements. But still it’s there. Battered, but still speaking the same message.
And then, since it was the first day of spring, we drove 25 minutes out of our way to get free cones at Dairy Queen. Free is our favorite flavor.
Tonight we had an intense conversation about how we fight against the systems in our world that work against life and flourishing for all people, which has been the question we’ve been working with since Sunday’s sermon. Do you do it by trying to change the government or by changing the people in it? Do you knock the government down all at once (but then what happens to the most vulnerable who need support?) Or do you do it in smaller neighborhood ways like Church of the Messiah and still have to work with government and struggle with it? Is it enough to do something small when the larger system is corrupt?
Jesus obviously calls us to fight against systems that oppose life, that oppose justice, that oppose the dignity of all people. And his cross constantly reminds us that we do that with love, not force, even thought we are so often tempted to do otherwise. But how? And are our small efforts enough? It’s so often our question in the face of so much struggle.
Tonight we ended with Evening Prayer. We prayed for the good being done, the people still suffering, and for Jesus to be in it all. This is our small part tonight. Tomorrow we wake up with another opportunity to do God’s work. Like everyday.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 20, 2018 at 12:05 AM|
We spent the day at Cass Community Social Serviceshttps://casscommunity.org/" target="_blank">, a program originally founded out of a Methodist church that was determined to commit themselves to caring for the people of their neighborhood. It began with bread lines during the Great Depression and has now become an organization which houses over 300 people and serves over a million meals a year. And they are located in a neighborhood where vacant buildings are on nearly every block, where hope seems like it may be hard to come by.
We spent the morning in the kitchen, making use of whatever was donated, as well as supplemental food purchased with proceeds from their catering business. We peeled potatoes, made salad, prepared chicken and made the biggest vat of mac and cheese I had ever seen.
But even better than the opportunity to help feed people who need it, we got to meet regular volunteers who welcomed us into their family for a few hours. There was Bob, who is on the board, who volunteers every week. There was Mr. Bobby who had been helping for 11 years, who told us how to do everything in the kitchen. There was CriCri, who told us she was addicted to crack for 20 years after she turned to it after a broken heart, but was clean now and couldn’t wait to tell us about her love of Jesus and how he had rescued her as we cut turnips together.
Some of our group helped serve lunch- where women and children always eat first. It was a struggle for our students to have to deny people seconds until after everyone had eaten and some just couldn’t do it. It never seems right to have to say that people can’t have food when they ask, but these are rules that care for the ones who get there late and rules to protect the shy and the quiet from the louder and more assertive voices getting too much. It’s a rule that makes the most sense when you are in the back of the line. And perhaps we need to make more of our rules based on what is best for those in the back.
After lunch, we headed to help Cass Green Industries, started in 2007 to provide economic opportunities for neighbors. They make doormats out of abandoned tires, coasters out of recycled glass and shred and recycle paper. Over 70 folks are employed through these industries, including adults with developmental disabilities who earn minimum wage sorting the paper for 2 hours a day in the warmer weather (it’s in a cold warehouse.) Mark, who runs the warehouse, was on his first day back after surgery and let us play in the shredded documents. Ok, he didn’t, but we played anyway, while actually working really hard to undo a misshapen bale and fill 75 bags of shredded paper for a church that wanted them (for what I have no idea!)
Cass makes about $3,000 on each 30 bales of white paper (each about a half ton) and less money on bales of colored paper and cardboard. I started doing the math and it doesn’t seem that they make much money after all the people they need to pay to pick up the documents for shredding and all the people to sort paper and work the balers, but the paper business was created to give people meaningful jobs in a neighborhood where there aren’t enough. So, at the end of the day, people are employed, documents are shredded, paper is recycled and everyone wins. What would our country and our neighborhoods be like if, instead of shareholder profits, we were motivated by what provides meaningful work and a living wage to our neighbors?
Mark, our leader, told us that the neighborhood folks respect Cass because many of them eat there on a regular basis. So as Cass has continued to buy more property in the area and take pride in the area, Mark said he’s seen people out picking up trash and caring for the area better. Hope begets hope. Hope ripples out. Hope is contagious.
Echoes of Pastor Anderson’s sermon keep ringing in my ears: those who reject the life of the world will find life in following after Jesus and his cross. Cass knows that the system is broken. There wouldn’t be so many people to feed and house if things worked how Jesus hopes. But they refuse to let that be the end of the story. They keep finding ways to steal hope back from despair and to create life from death (like all recycling.)
After a day made sweet by hard work that matters, by people who welcomed us like family, and so much laughter, we made a trip to Saunders candy store- a Detroit tradition- for ice cream and candy before dinner tonight.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 19, 2018 at 12:50 AM|
This morning, we were the grateful guests of the Detroit Cooperative Church, several Lutheran congregations who have joined together to be stronger in mission (which joyfully meets right upstairs from where we were staying!) The music was holy and life-giving and Pastor Anderson reminded us that Jesus calls us reject the life of the world and follow Jesus into God’s intention. How we are called to reject the systems of the world that value those with money more than those without and value those with white skin above those with darker skin. She also shared her commitment to be an active part of the Poor People’s Campaign every Monday by traveling to the state capital to amplify the needs of her community and of God’s people and call for justice.
While some folks took a rest before our next adventure, a few of us headed to downtown to visit Second Baptist Church, founded in 1836 by former slaves who were tired of being excluded from the full life of First Baptist Church. The gracious members of the church gave us a short tour, even though we hadn’t attended worship earlier, which is usually the only reason they do tours on Sundays. But they said, if you worshiped somewhere, it’s like worshipping here with us. Second Baptist has been a powerful force within the African American community for over 150 years and also hid slaves escaping to freedom in the Underground Railroad. And they have God's word posted on the wall as a reminder that their work of resistance to an unjust system was part of their story of following Jesus.
Our tour guide told us other stories of courage and resistance by the members of that church throughout the years, stories that are passed down throughout generations to remind members of who they are as followers of Jesus and as African Americans. It was a reminder of the power of stories to tell us who we are and to shape who we can become.
Then we took a ride on the People Mover to get a glimpse of Detroit (and Canada!) to see what downtown looked like before we headed back to the church to meet Lisa Jeffreys, from the Synod office, who gave us some perspective on Detroit’s history and the systemic issues imbedded in it.
When Henry Ford was building up the auto industry (and by extension, the city of Detroit), he put a call out more workers and paid them all the same, which was great. But he also determined which neighborhoods each ethnic group would live in as well as what materials would be available to construct houses with. Unsurprisingly, the African American workers were given the most substandard materials. Lisa also reminded us that the auto barons always held more important cards than the city government- since their leaving could cause the collapse of the metro area- and they are able to call the shots in so many things, including the lack of public transit (since they wanted people to need 2 cars in a family.)
We hopped in our van to drive downtown, purposely driving through Grosse Point, an annexed part of the city that has large homes by the water. The difference in the homes, the conditions of the roads and the services available to people was stark- making us wonder what it’s like to live with so much wealth while you are so close to those with little. That’s probably a question that can be asked of those of us who live in the city- as I do. And can be asked for many of us who live in the US as we see the lives of our brothers and sisters in other countries. What keeps us so separate? What makes it ok to live with more than enough when our brothers and sisters don’t have enough? Why do we allow this system to go on the way it does?
We made a quick visit to Belle Isle park and then headed downtown to see the a bustling downtown largely built by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who bought and refurbished many downtown properties. The public art and the parks and vacant buildings being used once again and the life of the downtown was cause for celebration, there is always an equal danger to a powerful person or corporation having so much say in things, just like the auto industry. Some in the city argue that Mr. Gilbert has imposed his will, rather than listening to the needs of the residents.
And then, we spent the evening at Marge’s Bar where Rev. Katrina treated us to a night out (with lots of fries and Coney Dogs and a few too many cherry colas for some of us!) so that we could watch UMBC play a valiant game against Kansas State before our student Alex led us in reflection and prayer.
At the end of the day, Pastor Anderson’s words ring in my head- we are ones that cannot love this the ways and the systems of this world too much, even when (perhaps especially when) they benefit us directly. We have to reject them for the sake of Jesus’ way. Because that is life. It means recognizing and rejecting the powers that try to define us and the ways we should live. And refusing to believe that the way things are the way things must be, especially as Jesus folk who see life in even in hopeless places.
(Spirit of Detroit public art)
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 18, 2018 at 12:40 AM|
(First, we ask for your prayers for one of our Morgan State students who was dealing with such back pain that her mom needed to pick her up last evening, after we had arrived in Pittsburgh.)
We were grateful to the Lutheran University Center at Pittsburgh for their hospitality last night. And very grateful that they had wifi strong enough to stream the UMBC game so that we (well, mainly superfan Rev. Katrina Grusell) could watch an amazing upset of UVA! It’s nice to have folks even up in Detroit know about the school where Katrina and I get to serve on a regular basis.
We started our day with a stop at Bucharest Grill for Middle Eastern food before a trip to the Detroit Historical Museum for a whirlwind introduction to the city we’ll call home for the week.
Being across the river from Windsor, Ontario meant that Detroit was a prime location on the Underground Railroad, offering freedom to slaves, who under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, could be caught and returned to slavery even if they were in non-slave states. Prominent black leaders in the city formed the Colored Vigilant Committee to aid slaves seeking freedom by putting up their own money to get them out of jail and bribe slave catchers, as well as monitoring slave catcher’s movements.
Our previous trips to Civil Rights sites and the racial justice realities of Baltimore and the rest of our country made the Detroit 67 exhibition a good background for our week. But what stuck out to me the most was the familiarity of all the stories:
Resistance to new folks who don’t look like us: The African American population grew by 600% in the years between 1910 and 1920 and in 1923 the Ku Klux Klan held it’s first rally at City Hall.
Government decisions that destroy minority communities and take their wealth: After restricting where African Americans could live in the city, the governments chose to build highways through lower income, predominately minority neighborhoods with little or no funds for the residents to relocate.
White flight: A second wave of African American migration from the South in the 60s caused more whites to move to the suburbs, which began neighborhood decline as businesses moved out and abandoned homes increased.
And then, 1967. After an altercation at a blind pig, or after-hours bar, police withdrew from the area and the mayor issued a “no-shoot” policy for the police. This may have allowed the destruction of fire and arson to continue unchecked for much longer, but also probably saved lives. It only stayed in place for a day.
And TV stations were asked not to cover the events at all and it wasn’t until a station in Windsor, Ontario reported on the situation that the Detroit media began their coverage.
But, by the end of 7 days, homes and businesses were burned. More folks leave the city. At least the people who can. Those who can’t leave figure out how to live in a changed city.
Then the familiar story continues, which is far too current: People fear the violence that comes too close and want to arm themselves to be protected so that “those people”- however it is defined- don’t take over. This is a cycle that is all too familiar in 2018. I am grateful for a Prince of Peace that we worship who tries to save us from this never-ending cycle, but I don't fully know how we get the courage to accept it.
As we headed back to our accommodations for the week at Salem Lutheran Church, the highway ramps were shut down in many places, making us take city streets and drive through neighborhoods with burned up and boarded up houses every block. Which has been too much of the continuing history of Detroit. Despair felt deep- and that wasn't just because my GPS directed me to every single closed highway ramp.
But, as I have told my students often, I can sum up my faith in the words, "and yet." Because Jesus has this awesome habit of never letting despair and destruction be the last word or the end of the story. And that's what we're looking to be reminded of this week.
At the historical museum- we did't only learn about disinvestment and an uprising in 1967, we also learned about the industry, the innovators, the musicians and the activist citizens who make up the rest of the story of the city. The artists who refuse to let decay and disinvestment be the whole story. The gardeners who see hope in empty lots. The people who care well for neighbors and fight for justice. This is the story we begin to learn more fully tomorrow- beginning with hearing Jesus' stories and singing his songs among our brothers and sisters in worship.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on January 29, 2018 at 10:20 AM|
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Stories like this- with screaming demons and Jesus casting them out- sometimes make us Lutherans a little uneasy. Because we like order. We like our worship and our lives to follow a plan. And we like to know what’s coming next. And whenever demons show up in Scripture, they’re always messing things up- either screaming in the middle of the synagogue’s worship, or causing convulsions or driving someone to violence. Demons are disruptive to our ordered lives. So, when these demon stories come up, (and it’s a lot because casting out demons was one of the cornerstones of Jesus’ ministry), we Lutherans get a little uneasy.
And besides that, we can’t explain exactly what they are. Sometimes they seem to be ways of explaining certain mental or physical illnesses in a time before they had words for those realities, but I think that explains a way a reality that we don’t like to admit often. That there are powers that take over a person and twist them into someone we cannot recognize.
Maybe we prefer to talk about them as addictions or compulsions or the power of evil, but whatever we call them, we still have seen that power at work. The powers that disfigure us like the man in the synagogue and turn us into what we are not. These demons are all the forces that make run in the opposite direction of what God wants for us. Rather than bless others, they encourage us to curse others, to tear them down. They are the forces that drive us to hate, rather than love and drive us to side with powers of death and destruction rather than stand on the side of life and health. They are powers that deform us and change us from who God created us to be.
Maybe these powers get a foothold during the end of a relationship, when someone has hurt us more deeply than we can explain. Right then, the power of hatred disfigures us and makes us want to hurt that person back. That power takes over and leaves no room for joy or for life.
Or maybe you have met those powers in a deep, painful grief after you have lost someone you love. Maybe that sadness and hopelessness is so overpowering that you can’t even see through it, you can’t even remember who you used to be.
Those powers may be at work through an addiction that claims that it is the thing that is in control in your life. It keeps calling out to you- whether it is alcohol or food or the desperate need to be in control. It often feels good, it makes things ok for a time, but it also becomes something that you can’t say no to, even though you don’t like what it does to you.
And in the days since 9/11, and after every new act of violence, we have seen the power of fear disorder our hearts- as individuals and as communities. It has a way of twisting our good ideals and making us want to shut people out before they can hurt us. And the powers of fear have a way of making us want to return to our past- where we knew we were safe- rather than face the uncertainty and change of the future that God calls us into.
These demons, these powers of evil don’t have to be dramatic. They don’t have to be visible to anyone else like they were for the man in the synagogue, but they are real and we know what it is to fight these powers. We know what it is to be controlled by forces that disfigure us. Powers that make us into what they want us to be, not what we were made by God to be.
Perhaps those in ancient times had a gift in being able to name these spirits for what they were- not just painful and destructive things, but spirits that are at war with who God made us to be. Addictions and hatred and greed and fear- these are all spirits other than God. They’re not just bad habits or human nature. They are things that distort the image of God in us, things that fight against the power of God in our lives. And this is true for us as individuals and us as a community together.
Because we are made in God’s image, so we are not made to dwell in hatred and greed. Even though it may feel good at times, we are not made to want revenge on our brothers and sisters. We are not made to keep some out to make ourselves feel safe or comfortable. And we are not made to have anyone or anything have ultimate power over us other than God alone.
But there is good news! What is true for the man in the synagogue is just as true for us. Jesus has power over all that threatens to define us and drag us away from who we were called to be. He has authority over all the forces within us and around us that cause us to run away from God’s intention for us. Jesus has the power to restore us to right selves.
Jesus doesn’t just help us keep New Year’s Resolutions or help us give something up at Lent. That is too small a thing. Jesus has the power to drive away the forces that draw us from God. The power to put us in our right mind and our right identity. To make us into who God hopes we will be- people of joy and love and compassion and service.
But how does Jesus drive away all those forces that try to own us? I wish there were some big flash of light or some magical words or something that proved that these powers were gone, that they no longer had control over us. Then we could have something to hold onto to trust Jesus’ power.
But there’s not. Jesus doesn’t so much as touch the man with the unclean spirit. Jesus sends the evil spirits away simply by saying “Be silent, and come out of him!” He tells the demons that they have no right to speak, that they no longer have authority. They can no longer own this man because God has already claimed him.
Jesus speaks and his words are somehow enough. Because his words create exactly what they say they will. That’s how it is with the words of God. They do what they say. It sounds too easy. Just as it was in creation, when God said “let there be light” and there was light, so it will always be. When God speaks, it creates a new reality. When God tells the waters of the flood to stop and the waters of the Red Sea to part, they do. So when God pronounces a blessing, you are blessed. When God speaks words of forgiveness, you are forgiven.
Jesus has authority over all that tries to have control over us and he keeps speaking that truth because he doesn’t want us to live enslaved. That’s what God declares in baptism- I choose you and you are claimed by me and no other. These other powers may fight for you, but I will fight them even to death. And I will fight them through death to the other side. You are mine and nothing can take you from me.
As my favorite baptismal prayer says, “now the floods will not overwhelm you and the deep will not swallow you up.” For you are mine and I have the power to bring you through. This is what Jesus declares to be true. When we are sinking deep in grief, when addictions and prejudice and hatred have a grip on us that we cannot shake, these words are like a life-preserver thrown out to us. They may not take us out of the water just yet, but they will hold us up until the fullness of God’s reality breaks in.
And this is no self-help talk. This isn’t just wishful thinking or keeping a positive attitude. Jesus declares that there is nothing in this world or beyond this world that can separate us from God’s love. And there will be nothing that is allowed to be more powerful that God’s hold on us. And as often as we give into those powers, as often as we choose to wallow in them, as often as we feel powerless to stop them- Jesus will keep speaking to those powers to send them away. To tell them to be silent so that we can hear God’s hope for us and God’s plan for us far above their noise.
God shuts those powers up, those voices, those desires and despairs so that we can hear the voice that seems too quiet and too small at times. The voice that simply says- be silent, for that is my child. I have claimed that one in love. I have set this precious one apart to live in freedom and joy and love. To live in loving community with others. To serve me and all I have created. And don’t you dare get in the way.
To the man in the synagogue who could not hide his demons and to all of us who work so hard to cover ours up, Jesus’ words are still the same- none of these powers are as powerful as my words. None have a chance to stand against all that I am. And none have the right to claim what God already has. It is the truth whether we believe it or not.
And thanks be to God for that.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 11, 2017 at 4:30 PM|
2 Peter 3:8-15
Every Thursday on campus, our ministry stands out with a big sign on campus asking a question to get to know our Towson community. And this week’s question was about which holiday tradition we were most looking forward to. And one of our students told me that what she likes the best is how her mom changes out all the lights to make them softer so that everything is cozy at Christmas. That’s how we like to prepare for Christmas- especially on snowy days like yesterday. We want to bake cookies, put out warm blankets and think happy thoughts.
But in the church, getting ready for Christmas is never cozy. It starts with the end of the world like we heard last week and it continues in the wilderness with a man who dedicated his life to being un-cozy- one who wears scratchy wool and eats locusts. And he’s telling everyone to change the way they’re living and get right with God.
John is standing in the wilderness speaking the truth that his people were out of step with God’s ways. They were taking advantage of others and not doing the hard work that God needed them to do. And frankly, they were getting too comfortable with living like that. So John is telling them that they needed to clean up their lives and get ready for God to come into their midst.
That’s probably something that doesn’t sound all that foreign around this time of year. We never want guests to see how messy our homes. We don’t want them to see how we really live. So, when company comes we scrub the bathrooms, clean out the spare room, and vacuum the floors. And that’s what John is calling us to do, to clean ourselves up and make space in our hearts for the one that is coming.
And although I love John’s words in the abstract- and perhaps I like them in the concrete when they are said to people in my life that I have decided need to repent the most- there are days that I want to put in ear plugs and close my eyes and pretend that he’s not calling to me from the wilderness THIS year. Because sometimes it just seems like too much. To try to do all that’s asked of us in this busy December time while also having to stop and see all the ways I don’t measure up, how I get my priorities messed up and how I don’t care well for the people and the work entrusted to me. And not just to see it, but to begin to live differently! It’s all too much some years and I want John to go back to his wilderness.
But the people in John’s day had ears to hear John as more than a pesky voice giving us one more thing to do. They heard him as the continuation of what God always did in the wilderness.
Because the wilderness had always been a special place for God’s people. Even though it was harsh and unforgiving, it had always been a place where God had sustained the people. God sent them manna and kept them alive for 40 years in the wilderness after God rescued them from Egypt. God had given them the law in the wilderness and led them with a pillar of cloud.
And the wilderness was where the prophets went to hear a word from God. And it’s where God spoke words of hope to those in exile. The wilderness may have been harsh and hard to bear- like John’s words to them- but the wilderness was also a place where God had a habit of showing up for the good of God’s people.
So they could hear wilderness words as words filled with hope. Words that proclaimed what our Second Lesson did- that God is patient and desperately wants everyone to turn around to God and be made new. And the Scriptures says that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him” and confessing all that they had done wrong. The people were lining up for the chance to admit that their lives weren’t what they hoped them to be and they were in need of a new way of living. And they were willing to trust that there could be a new future for them. Because they trusted John’s word from the wilderness- God is doing a new thing among you, so get ready for it!
John’s voice cries out the same in our own wildernesses- be those wildernesses of busyness or heartache or shame. Cries out with that promise that we all want this Christmas season- that there is a chance to be made new. For our broken places to be healed. For our distracted ways to be focused again on God. There is a chance to leave behind our harmful habits. There is hope for us to be the people we were created to be.
But that begins by responding to that wilderness call. By confessing all that gets in the way of following God’s hope for us. By confessing all the things that we make more important than following Jesus. By committing ourselves to leave behind those things that trap us. To get ready for all that God wants to do in the world, so that we might have a part it bringing it to birth.
Now, all this preparing our hearts and lives doesn’t earn us something. And our God is going to show up whether we get out there in the wilderness and get ready. Because our God is better at showing up than we will ever be in preparing our hearts. But there are some things that make our heart more ready to greet to that good news when it comes.
You know what that’s like. When our house is clean, we can receive guests more easily because we’re not ashamed of what things look like and we’re not busy thinking about what needs to be done. When our studying is done, we can more readily welcome the test that’s coming. When we’ve been eating right and doing our exercises, we can be more ready to greet the doctor’s appointment. When we’re ready, we can have our hearts open in a new way. That is what John is inviting us to do in Advent.
Advent is supposed to be a renewal movement. A time of getting our hearts ready for all that God will make new. Our preparations are about doing those things make us ready to celebrate God’s ways in the world. But how do we actually do this in the midst of a hectic season?
We go out to the wilderness. We take that one thing that the wilderness has plenty of- silence. Away from our reading. Away from our technology. Away from the Christmas songs on the radio. Away from our to-do list. Take some moments this week- wherever you can find them- to just stop. Hear your own life.
And lift up your eyes from the news to gaze at the vision of God’s new heaven where our Second Lesson says, “righteousness at home.” Imagine what that will look like. And at least for 5 minutes a day, dare to trust that it is coming into the world. Dream about when the prophecies will come true- when the lion and the lamb live together. When everyone sits under their own vine and own fig tree and no one feels afraid. When all people will come to worship together on God’s holy mountain. God’s future has a way of putting our hurry, our stress about little details, and our cleaning and baking and shopping in perspective. This is not so we can escape the world, but we can be ready for the new way of the world when it comes.
Begin doing that thing that you know God want you to do- whether it’s forgive someone, reach out to someone who desperately needs it, or advocate to protect those who are vulnerable.
And if you are too busy with Christmas preparations to even think about doing that, then I’m going to use my authority as a pastor to give you permission to put down some of those things that our culture says we have to do (and believe me, I get sucked in by it, too.) Shut out the voices that try to convince us that if we don’t do this tradition or have our home prepared in this way, our kids or grandkids or friends won’t have a magical holiday. If we don’t find the right gift or bake all 8 kinds of cookies, we simply won’t be able to have Christmas. Blame it on me this year if you have to.
Because sometimes we get so wrapped up in what Christmas has to look like that we forget what WE should look like. We forget what our lives before God should look like as we wait for God to come to us. We forget God’s call to “as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” We forget, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We forget God’s pleading voice calling us to come in prayer and trust with all that is too heavy for us to carry.
But then we hear John’s pesky voice in the wilderness reminding us that God is coming. Coming to us, ones called beloved. Our God is coming to make a world “where righteousness is at home.” And we are invited to get our hearts ready so that we can rejoice when God comes.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 4, 2017 at 2:20 PM|
There are wars rumors of war. Earthquakes and famines. Stars and sun and moon are failing to give their light. The world is falling apart and it seems like the end is near. Welcome to the new year in the church!
Every single year, we this is how we begin- with a reminder of the chaos that will happen to our world. And some years we don’t really need this reminder, do we? It feels like our world is in chaos already. It feels some days like all the evil and violence will win and that this is the moment when the world will finally spin out of control.
But perhaps it is a consolation that Jesus knew these days would come. And he’s trying to get his disciples ready. Before that passage we just heard, Jesus was telling the disciples that there will be famines and earthquakes and that his followers would be persecuted and thrown in prison. And now we hear him telling them that even the sun and moon will be in chaos. The seas will be stormy and the tides will be out of sync. All of nature will be in disarray.
And people are going to be terrified. People will faint with fear. Whole countries will be in chaos because they’re not going to know how to handle a world that’s gone crazy. Because none of us do. That’s what makes the chaos of the world so scary. Most of it is far beyond our ability to control or change. When terrorist attacks happen. When tsunamis swallow up the land. When earthquakes and shootings and wars happen, we watch without being able to stop them.
Jesus knew that these things would happen so he tells his followers the truth. Things will happen in this world that will scare you to your core and make you question that I am really in control and am coming back. In those moments, where fear grips your heart, when all you want to do is cry and hide, remember these words.
I have told you what will happen so that you’ll be able to be strong and courageous in the face of the mess that’s coming. In fact, when all this stuff starts happening, that’s when you can take heart. In that day, you will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” In the moments where you think the world will fall apart, in that day you will see the face of Jesus. In the chaos, you will be met by the God who walked this earth with you.
So when you see these signs, Jesus says, you know that the kingdom of God is near. These signs don’t mean destruction. They mean Jesus coming into our midst. They mean God’s promise of coming to this world again is close.
Look at the fig tree Jesus says. (Or any other tree, for those of us who don’t know much about figs!) It sprouts leaves then you know that the summer is coming soon. That’s how nature works. Buds, then leaves, then summer happens. So you know how to read the signs of the world. And you know to depend on them. So, know that my coming is just as sure as the seasons changing. As sure as the sun rising every morning. Something that can be counted on. So when things in this world are out of control in the world, let that be your sign. Look that chaos right in the face and remember my words. Trust God to come to bring the kingdom and set things right. And when everything may pass away, know that God’s word will never cease to be on the earth. So cling to that word for your very life.
And then, knowing that you are holding onto this hope of God that will not disappoint you, then face the terror with courage, Jesus says. Remind each other of this. Encourage each other in this hope and pray that you will be ready for whatever happens next. Pray that you will have the strength to be who God needs you to be in the midst of all that is going on around you. And get to the joyful work that I give you to do in the midst!
Because as ones who look into the future with hope, we are called to be the ones that care for our brothers and sisters well in chaotic times. Like first responders who resist the paralyzing fear for the sake of helping others, we who hope in Christ are invited to rescue others are trapped by fear. We get to help them see a new vision of what is possible in the world. And because we know a new future if coming, we get to start that work now- by working to break down the systems of oppression that hurt our brothers and sisters. As ones who can trust that Jesus is coming to set this world right, and not destroy it, we can speak peace to those who are terrified and are tempted to react with violence and selfishness. We are ones that can testify to the hope that Jesus gives us, the hope that keeps us alert and gives us the capacity for joy even in the craziest of times.
In fact, we are to be people “infected by hope”- to be signposts of hope for those who are locked in fear or are doing their best to avoid looking reality straight in the eye. We are people who can see the world for what it is- a mess in need of God’s fixing. And we don’t have to be afraid of its messiness and its brokenness, because we know that at the end of time, God will fix all that we cannot. God will restore all that has been destroyed. God will bring peace to all the places where peace seems impossible right now- in Syria and Israel and in the streets of Baltimore.
We get to walk confidently toward the future that Jesus promises, even if the world seems to be falling apart around us. We don’t know when the Son of Man will come again to gather us up and transform this world. But we are absolutely assured that God will come. Simply because God has promised it.
But until then, we wait for the brokenness to be healed in our world. And work to heal it. And we beg and plead for it to be healed soon. But still we wait. Achingly we wait for the world to be set right. But we sometimes we start to lose hope. Because waiting is hard and we don’t know how to do it all that well. And that is why we so deeply need the gift of Advent.
Advent has always been my favorite season of the church year. Because I recognize it. Advent is where all Christians live their lives. Basking in the light of the dawn, but waiting and praying and pleading for the sunrise that will light up the whole world. It’s the moment where we plead for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” like Isaiah. It’s a season where we practice hope and to resist the fear the world tries to teach us. It’s a time to wait with expectation for God’s power to be seen in our world.
A few years ago at our campus ministry at UMBC, we had a few students who were not religious join us for one of our dinner discussions. We regularly welcome whoever will come in and eat with us so you never know how the conversation will go. And that week we were talking about how hard it is to wait and what makes it easier. And, being a pastor I just couldn’t wait to tell them about Advent, where we wait for Jesus in the manger and in our world. And to my surprise, our guests were excited to hear about all our traditions. And that’s when I started to feel a little silly.
“Well, the main thing we do is light candles.” “A lot?” they asked. “No, just one more each week. It’s our way of defying the darkness. And then we put blue cloths on the altar because it’s the color of hope. It’s usually a dark blue, which is the color of the sky just before morning. And then we read the promises the prophets brought us. And we sing songs about Jesus coming to steady our hearts.” In the face of the impending exams these students were worried about, in the face of a big, fancy Christmas season, our candles and readings and prayers didn’t seem like enough.
But the are all reminders of the promise that is enough- the promise that God holds this world and us. All our candles and songs and readings this season point us to the truth that we live in- the truth of Jesus who loved this world enough to wear our flesh and battle back all that works against our world. They point to the truth that we cling to when the world is out of control.
So, during this Advent, cling to this hope. When news stories cause you to fear, steady yourselves with the words of hope from the prophets. Light Advent candles (and maybe a whole lot more candles) at home to remind yourself of the light in the darkness that will not be overcome. Testify to hope by being part of the healing of all that is broken in the world- by caring for the lonely and the needy. Encourage each other with this hope and bring this hope to the world outside these walls- when you meet people locked in fear and despair. Live this hope anyway you know how as we wait for our God to come and transform this world.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 27, 2017 at 11:55 AM|
A sermon on Matthew 25:31-46
Christ is King! This is our proclamation today- to the world and probably more even more so to ourselves and our brothers and sisters sitting with us. Jesus is the only true ruler of our lives. And in the world. When the politics in our own country sadden us and anger us and cause us to despair some days. When we see extremist groups attacking and killing in mosques and in markets. When the rich get richer while those without money suffer. It is a blessed thing and a hopeful thing to get to come here to say together with the whole church, “Jesus is king.”
We profess- even when we can barely believe it- even when it is against our better judgment- that the powers of this world are not more powerful than the One we trust our lives to. Jesus reigns over all the powers in the world- corrects, judges and is greater than them all. And we proclaim that our hope lies in this Jesus who governs with justice and with a grace beyond what we are capable of.
And if Jesus is king, that our ultimate allegiance- beyond political party or national identity or even family connections, lies with him. He is the one that deserves our respect. He is the one that sets the laws that govern our life. He is the one that can command our obedience. And no other power has that right, no matter how honorable it might seem.
And that is reason to rejoice. But then we hear about what it means for Jesus to be our king and the kind of rules he sets for the kingdom we are invited into. And it’s not surprising that those who will be counted as great are those who have served King Jesus. What is surprising is that Jesus tells us the astounding reality that each of us can do this- serve the very person of Jesus- every time we care for those who are hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned.
Your respect for and care for and those who are suffering is as important as the words you pray to me in holy places. It’s as important as the time spent studying my word. (Both are a part of a life of following Jesus.) It’s as important as the time spent working and caring for your family. Because this is what it means to be a subject in my kingdom.
And it doesn’t mean just doing the easy stuff. It means loving the hardest to love. The prisoners who have done things that you don’t want to forgive. The hungry who are ungrateful. The sick who are belligerent and who are sick because of their own choices. The sick who have diseases you could catch.
But Jesus also says that when you love the ones who are least in Jesus’ family- and I would extend that to the ones you call least- you will be blessed. And that means loving our Christian brothers and sisters who we disagree with on everything but Jesus. Loving those on the other side of the political fence. Loving those who think we’re too liberal. Loving those who would even speak against us. These ones are my children. Children that may be hard to love. But when you love them, you love me.
And that means that our deeds matter. When so much of our trying to help doesn’t change situations fast enough or even at all, we need to know that our helping was not futile. When we visit the person suffering from Alzheimer’s who doesn’t even know who we are and it seems like a waste of time. When the sick person we pray for and visit and support just gets sicker. In those frustrating moments, it is a blessing to know that that our moments of serving are part of our worship and Jesus sees them and rejoices that we are living into the kingdom he brings.
Love people in need- those who are sick, those who spend their lives in prison like our brothers and sisters in the Community of St. Dysmas, and those who are hungry and begging. This is how you love Jesus. If the parable ended there, it would be hard, but good. But then there’s that part about judgment. And this is the third week in a row we’ve heard about judgment! There have been bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil, servants who didn’t invest their talents and now nations and peoples who don’t serve others when they had the chance and they keep ending up in the darkness after being thrown out or shut out.
And that probably makes some of us uneasy. We don’t quite know what to do with our Jesus throwing people that didn’t seem to do things so terribly wrong into the darkness. Because we don’t know what that means for our brothers and sisters or for us! And I have to tell you, I don’t know completely. I do not fully understand God’s judgment in light of this Jesus who went to the cross to rescue us.
But what I do know is reality. I do know the truth that living apart from Jesus means living apart from his unexplainably beautiful love. It means living away from the hope that there is forgiveness beyond our mistakes and hope for the future. And to not live in this love is punishment.
And Jesus says- when you refuse to love the people that I love, you live apart from me. You set yourself outside the goodness of my love. You live outside my kingdom and refuse to be my beloved, peculiar people in the world. You refuse to live as if I am actually in charge of your life. And then you live your life without me as your king. And will put your trust in things that will disappoint you. And that is punishment in this life and in the next.
So I can’t believe that this parable is saying what so many in our world assume- good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. It’s not that easy when Jesus and his annoying tendency to love people is involved. But it is telling us that there are consequences to how we live. And they are not always seen in the moments when we choose convenience or safety over the life of our brothers and sisters in need. But every time we ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters, these choices take us farther away from the heart of God. And every time we miss the opportunity to see Jesus, to care for Jesus, to trust Jesus’ ways as our very life and hope.
And yet, after all those beautiful words about God’s kingdom, I bet we’re still wondering, are we a sheep are or are we a goat? Are we the ones that are welcomed in to the joy of God or are we the ones who are sent away because of our actions? We’ve probably been reviewing our past few weeks in our head during much of the sermon. So, how does the sorting work? Do we get welcomed in because of one moment of caring or do we get kicked out because of one moment of non-caring? Are those of us who always try to care for others going to be put among the goats because of the one time we were too distracted or too grumpy to help? And are those who are always rude and unfeeling, going to be welcomed into life with God because of one kind act? Which side are we on? The parable makes us uneasy.
And I think that’s part of what this parable is supposed to do- convict us when we have ignored those who need our help, whether we were too scared, too busy or too self-righteous. It makes us a little nervous of how God will look at us because of how we have acted. It makes us grieve over the times we have failed to care for Jesus in his bodies on earth. And Jesus reminds us that the privilege and responsibility of caring for him doesn’t end. The opportunity to glimpse his presence in the faces of those that need our care is always nearby. It keeps us constantly on alert to care for Jesus in the flesh of others.
And it reminds us that we get the no matter which side we feel we’re on- sheep or goat- we stand before the throne of Jesus, our king. We stand before the one who loves us and shows us the good ways to live in his kingdom. And, all of us who call Jesus king- or who TRY to call Jesus king- have the command to serve all our neighbors. Especially those most in need. These are the rules of the kingdom we are invited into.
They are hard rules, but what joy to find our life in this kingdom where those who are weaker are treasured as much as the strong and those who have failed are forgiven and given new chances. It’s a kingdom where love conquers hatred and where healing springs up in unexpected places. This is the kingdom of our God, the kingdom that we get to live into, where the rule is always one of merciful love. For us and for our neighbor.
So as ones who will stand before the throne of our King Jesus, as those who wish to be found among those sheep welcomed into his joy, we spend our lives trying to love like crazy. We live constantly attentive to the needs of those who suffer and those who have less than we do. We go beyond what is comfortable and safe for the sake of our neighbors. And when we cannot do everything, we trust the mercy of Jesus. We rely on the one whom we meet in the faces of those we serve.