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Speaking to the demons

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on January 29, 2018 at 10:20 AM

Mark 1:21-28

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.

Getting ready for Jesus, not just Christmas

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 11, 2017 at 4:30 PM

2 Peter 3:8-15

Mark 1:1-8

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.

Being first-responders in a fear-filled world

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 4, 2017 at 2:20 PM

Mark 13:24-37

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.


Does what we do matter? A sermon on trying to be a sheep

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.

Jesus leads us out of abuse and the places that trap us

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on May 9, 2017 at 12:15 AM

John 10:1-10

1 Peter 2:19-25


It’s Good Shepherd Sunday- a time when pastors talk about Jesus’ desire to protect and lead us in this life. To call us back when we’re going astray and keep us on the pathways that lead to life. The one who carries us on his shoulders when we have been beat up by the world. It’s a nice thing to get to preach on, a comforting reality. And I’ve got a great story about how stupid sheep can be and how I, as a 21-year old with no livestock experience, had to rescue a sheep stuck in a fence in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. But as much as that would be fun, there’s been something getting in the way for me this week.


And it’s not anything going on in the world, although that is a place where we desperately need a Good Shepherd to guide us and protect us. This week it’s some words in our Bible that have been getting in the way- those words we hear from 1 Peter today. Because they have been used in horrible ways that betray the love of Jesus for all people.


Now, we try to sanitize them a bit by leaving off the first verse which says, “slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” This is who the passage is actually spoken to and we know the violence that was done with those words. We know they were used to encourage those who were imprisoned to be obedient and subservient in a system that was never God’s will for them. And I think the church knows better than to publicly speak words which have been used to justify evil toward our brothers and sisters.


But the words we hear this morning are not much better. Did you hear them?


For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.


And I will tell you that I struggle to read these words in my Bible, because they seem to justify abuse and encourage submission to it rather than resistance. And not to endure suffering for courageously following Jesus and taking the punishment that you knew would result. This passage encourages Christians to endure suffering that comes as a result of just living your life in a situation where you don’t have much power.


And although I can’t find anything that will explain away these words that seem to fly in the face of Jesus’ loving intentions for our lives, it has helped to understand the community to which Peter wrote this letter.


Peter lived in a society where Christians seemed suspicious and dangerous, subversive to the way things were. Their equality among themselves, their sharing with each other, their ultimate allegiance to God rather than the emperor- these are things that didn’t sit well with the world around them. So Christians were seen as a threat and the world would take any excuse to do away with these Jesus followers. So Peter is writing to a community of Christians struggling to survive and hold onto their true identity in Christ.


And it seems like that community was made up of mostly folks who weren’t the rich and powerful. Many of them were servants and they lived at a time where there wasn’t much of any chance of overturning the social order and staying alive at the same time. And if they, as a persecuted minority, tried to overturn the social structure, they were likely to be killed and the Christian community would be destroyed.


So, Peter was writing to try and encourage the church in the midst of the unjust world they lived in and help them continue to be the church and pass on the faith to future generations. Just before our passage, Peter reminds the church of the truth that they stand in- that they were a people made free in Christ. And they get to make a choice about how they will use that freedom- for good or for evil. So, in these in-between times, where they knew the equality and freedom of God’s kingdom but couldn’t live into it, Peter encourages the church to keep holding fast to faith in Jesus and following as best they’re able.


And that meant refusing to return abuse for abuse. It meant refusing to threaten or harm others when they treated them badly. It meant being loving even when evil was done to them. This is the way of Christ. And, as Peter says, by doing right when you have no earthly reason to, you might silence the ignorance of the foolish.


Peter wanted to give his church the power to do the one thing they could- choose to follow in the footsteps of Christ in a situation they couldn’t change. To use their good conduct to witness to Jesus and shame those who would treat them harshly. To resist the abuse by refusing to let it overtake their soul. And to identify their suffering with the suffering of Jesus to find enough strength to carry on. Because there are some moments where the only alternative is to endure.


And in those moments when we’re barely holding on, knowing that Jesus suffers beside us and has gone before us is a thing that saves us. But just because Jesus stands besides us doesn’t mean we stay stuck in abuse.


Because we are living in a different moment from Peter’s. We are privileged to be living in a moment where abuse is understood for what it is- utterly against God’s intention for anyone and something to be resisted rather than endured. Identifying our suffering with Jesus’ should never be a reason to stay trapped in a situation where God’s abundant, beautiful life is clouded out by abuse.


Because we have a Good Shepherd who is calling out to us by name. And that name is always beloved. Jesus calls out to us to remind us that we are treasured ones made with a purpose. Jesus calls out to those facing abuse and to all the rest of us who have forgotten our names. Who have gotten used to the names the world calls us. Who have gotten used to being named by the work we do, the work we fail to do or the times we have messed up. And hearing that name again is something I need to hear often.


Every night, my 5-year old and I bless each other by making the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads and saying, “Hannah, you are a beloved child of God.” “Mommy, you are a beloved child of God.” And, because my daughter has the gospel message deep in her soul, she asked us to add something to that. Now every night we also remind each other, “Mommy, Hannah, God loves you even when you make mistakes.” It is a blessed reminder to hear every night.


Because Jesus doesn’t just call to us to make us feel good. He calls us in order to lead us out. Out from the places where sheep get trapped or attacked. Out from the places where sheep are threatened. For those who are abused, that leading out sometimes happens through hands like ours- by recognizing and helping children, spouses and the elderly who are abused by those who profess to love them. Or when we advocate for migrant farm workers and others who are abused in their jobs.


And thanks be to God, Jesus also leads us out from the places where wayward sheep wander because they get distracted or want to go their own way. To lead us out from the things that attack us and into the green pastures and beside the still waters.


And Jesus leads us out by going before us. Like one who makes tracks in the snow for us to follow- to know exactly where to put our feet, to make the road easier for us and ensure that we won’t get lost. He leads us out by teaching us the good ways that lead to life.


By teaching us to forgive those who don’t deserve it. By teaching us welcome the stranger even when we fear them. By teaching us to love in the face of evil. And teaching us how to suffer, if we must, for the sake of working for justice and love for our brothers and sisters.



Jesus walks the road ahead of us- walking through the dangers before us so that he can be the one to bring us through. So that he can bring us to life abundant. And thanks be to God for that.


Walking the road to Emmaus with Jesus

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on May 2, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Luke 24:13-35

“We had hoped. . . “ That’s what the followers of Jesus said as they walked back to Emmaus. They were walking slowly- the way you do when you’ve got nothing to look forward to where you’re headed. We had hoped that this would turn out differently, they said to each other. And when a stranger starts to walk the road with them and asks them why their steps are so slow, these two say, “we bet all our hope on Jesus and we don’t know what to do next.”


We had hoped Jesus was the one that was going to save our people and overthrow the Roman government. We had hoped he was the one to bring change or at least bring some judgment on those who were making life miserable for us. We didn’t expect to be walking back from the place of his death with nothing to show for it. We had hoped that this wasn’t the end. But it’s been 3 days and Jesus isn’t coming back to us. He isn’t showing up. And we’re about done with this hope thing.


And I bet a lot of us know that same feeling. Some days we just don’t have the strength to hope anymore. Some days we’re walking back home after our loved one has died saying, “we had hoped that our prayers would be answered. That we would be rejoicing instead of crying.” We had hoped that we would find a job before the bills came due. We had hoped that justice would finally come rather than life continuing on as it always has.


And sometimes, as unholy as it sounds to us, we lose hope in Jesus showing up. Because we had hoped that following Jesus was going to suddenly make things different. Make it better. But we’re walking around with all the mess still in front of us. And we don’t have much trust that things are going to change. Because Jesus is great and that’s why we trusted him and followed him. But we don’t see him right here with us, right now, which is where we need him to be. We aren’t seeing the change that we hoped Jesus would bring. And there may be days when we just don’t have much strength to hold onto faith anymore.


Anybody know what that’s like? When we just stop thinking any good is coming to us. When we stop trying. We just start walking aimlessly back to our lives. Going through the motions. That’s right where these travelers are when a stranger comes along to walk the road with them. But instead of walking in their despair with them, he starts talking about Scripture. Making all those Scriptures that they scratched their head about make sense. (Wouldn’t you like that!) And making the Scriptures come alive- as if they were speaking right to the hearts of these two Jesus followers. This stranger spoke with words so powerful that he made the love and hope of God into something alive and active. Something that changed how they were walking. Something that spoke to their soul and revived them.


They were being changed on the road and they barely noticed when they actually got to where they were going. And then they didn’t want the moment to end, so they invited this stranger in for a meal, since it was getting dark. You’ve shared life with us on the road, they say. Come share a meal with us, now. And maybe you can keep sharing this hope of God with us. Because we need it.


And “when Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Doing just what he had done so often with his followers. On the hillside when 5,000 gathered. At the table with his friends before his death. And at so many normal meals with friends, strangers and enemies. And in that moment they recognized Jesus. He was here, with them. He was here, living out the same stories he had before his death. Speaking the same hope. Challenging them to trust God’s work and be a part of it. Jesus was still with them!


Their hearts are so filled up and ready for the life in front of them that they wondered why they didn’t recognize Jesus sooner! They said, “were not our hearts burning within us when he talked to us on the road?” And those burning hearts send them right out the door- even though it’s dark outside- because they can’t sit still with their hearts on fire! They run back in the middle of the night to tell their friends, “we have seen the Lord!”


That’s how I tell the story every single week to my college students at Towson. Every single week. It’s become my students’ favorite part of Tuesday night dinners, which is our main gathering at Towson. (And I’ve told it enough that my students have FINALLY gotten into their heads that these disciples are not going to Amadeus or Damascus or another place.) And the reason we tell this story over and over again is because we trust that this is not just a story of two travelers 2,000 years ago- this is our story. Our story of how Jesus keeps showing up to us.


Every week we tell the story and remind each other that we are these two followers on the road. And sometimes a stranger walks the road with us. And in those moments when we recognize Jesus right beside us, we get to run back in the middle of the night to our friends to say, “I have seen the Lord!” So after this story each week, we share the moments of God’s presence in our lives. Sometimes they are small things, like a glimpse of the flowers in spring that point us back to the God who brings life or a peace that came over us in the midst of painful times. And the presence of Jesus does even bigger things- from being given the strength to begin healing from an eating disorder to God putting a student with medical training in the right place at the right moment to care for someone who needed immediate help. And just this week one of our students talked about the courage that God gave her to intervene in a sexual assault on campus last week.


So every week we Jesus folk get together, we share the good news that Jesus keeps showing up. He comes in was we don’t always recognize, we don’t always understand at first, but he keeps showing up to walk the road with us.


And we do this every single week because sometimes we know we are, like Jesus tells the travelers, “foolish and slow of heart to believe” all that God has already told us through the stories in our Bible. Sometimes we are foolish and slow of heart to believe our neighbors who have testified to God’s presence in their lives. Sometimes we have been “foolish and slow of heart to believe” when Jesus has come up alongside us and walked the way with us. So we desperately need to be reminded that Jesus walking with us isn’t just a reality for the two followers on the road, it’s the reality for us, too. Over and over again.


And I’ve got to tell you- every week when I tell this story, I think that I’m going to be met with silence. But I’m not. Ever. And there are some weeks when I need to stop the conversation if we’re ever going to make it to our topic for the night!


Because Jesus keeps showing up to walk the road with us! When our hope is hanging on by a thread, Jesus comes to revive our souls and give us enough strength to keep walking. And to remind us that there is nothing in life that we walk through alone, no matter how painful.


When reading Scripture has just become going through the motions, Jesus will pull up beside us to make them into living realities instead of just words. He will help know our God’s relentless desire to love us and have us know God’s love in return. He will remind us of the incredible work God has been up to throughout our Scriptures: forgiving enemies, bringing justice for those who long for it and welcoming the outsider- so that we can have the strength to follow in God’s paths.


And Jesus, who never seems to turn down an invitation to sit down at the table and share a meal, will keep being known to us around the table, too. He will pull up a chair beside us when we share meals with those who don’t always get an invitation and with those we disagree with. Jesus will keep showing up to make our food enough- to fill up our bellies and our souls.


And most surely Jesus comes in the meal we share as God’s family together, at this altar. He promises that all of us weary travelers will meet him here and he’ll keep giving us the bread that sustains us.


We are those travelers on the road and Jesus keeps showing up to us. But do you know what happened when the two recognized Jesus? He vanishes from their sight. And they have nothing to hold onto. Except the holy bread that he gave them. Scriptures that are opened to them. And hearts that are revived. And this is enough to send them out to follow him in his forgiving, justice-bringing, enemy loving work in the world.


They don’t have proof to hold onto that will make all the world believe. But they have their stories. They have their hope and their courage to live their lives in the way of Jesus. They have hearts set on fire for God. They have their eyes open to a world where life conquers death, where love defeats evil, and where Jesus shows up for them in their despair.


This is what our risen Jesus does. Over and over again. May we train our eyes to recognize him when he comes and then run back to testify to our friends, “Truly I have seen the Lord!”


Day 6: Lumbee history, social transformation and being sent home differently

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 24, 2017 at 2:05 AM

We started our last day of the trip at the Indian Education Center and then stayed busy the entire day, thanks to our guide Mac who we are convinced knows everyone in town. He has dedicated his life to this community and loves the people and the place desperately. And we were privileged to have him share his passion with us.


We delved a little deeper into the history of American Indian When Andrew Jackson moved others during the Indian Removal Act, the Lumbee were allowed to stay on their land since no one wanted the swamp land. Yet they still lost rights through the Act in 1835, including their right to vote, the right to own a gun and their right to go to school. The right to go to school- even segregated ones- was not gained until Henry Lowrie fought against the settlers (after witnessing settlers kill his entire family) and prevailed in 1874. We also heard a wonderful story about how the Lumbee stood up to the Klan when they were hoping to hold a rally in the 1950s. The Lumbee turned up to the protest in mass and scared them off by shooting into the air in the dark so the Klan didn’t know what was happening. And after the men jumped into the lake to get away, the Lumbee stayed behind to help the Klanswomen who were getting the cars stuck in ditches while trying to get away. These are the stories that are told to the young people that help them know who they are as a people- a people who will not be bullied, but will stand up for the good of their community.


We also got to make a quick trip out to wigwam and the Spiritual Circle to see where some of the tribe gathers at equinox and solstice as well as for the spring pow-wow. They have made a wigwam (although they didn’t scrape the bark at the right time of year so it curled a bit) and have tried to grow the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) and had lots of trial and error to get it right. These are traditions that weren’t passed down and they are having to relearn the old ways and gather their stories once again.

 Click here for photos

Our tour guide Kenneth told us that the American Indians that eventually became known as the Lumbee survived by banding together. Separately their individual tribal existences were threatened by disease, discrimination and violence. But they were willing to band together in the swamps and become a new people. And this willingness to intermix with others is what allowed them to take in others in need- escaped slaves and Union soldiers escaping prisons in the south. And yet, now this banding together is also what is standing in the way of federal recognition for their tribe, since the government is asking them to choose only one tribal background, am impossibility for a people of numerous tribal heritages. As they continue to try to gain federal recognition, Kenneth said, “We want recognition to care for our elders well, but if we don’t get it, we’ll go on. We’ve already survived this long.” It underscored the understanding of the Lumbee as a self-determined people who will keep finding a way no matter what.


Although the pastor of the Burnt Swamp Baptist Church was not available today to talk as we had hoped, we did learn that there is a largely Lumbee congregation in Baltimore, where many folks moved years ago for the shipbuilding industry. So there are possibilities to deepen the connection to the Lumbee people that we began in North Carolina.


Nest stop was to see Herman and Loretta Oxendine who were good enough to let us come to their home and see the traditional crafts they make. Herman makes hand-shaped pottery fired in a pit while Loretta makes pine-needle baskets. They told stories about growing up in Robeson County under segregation and that they “didn’t think nothin’ of, it’s just how it was. You could go anywhere in Pembroke, just not other places.” Their stories of meeting each other, Loretta’s work as a teacher and their obvious pride in their work was a joy to hear.

 Click here for photos from the day

Back at the River Way environmental center, our guide Mac shared with us wisdom from his 4 decades of work on social transformation. Mac is a man who sees things holistically and sees the gaps in our culture’s way of transforming communities and society as a whole. He encouraged our students to see the value in relationship building and social deliberation as the underpinning of all social change. This is what keeps social movements going and makes them effective- like the Civil Rights Movement. And then we helped to rebuild what was lost by the flood by laying down flooring, removing rotted boards and generally cleaning out the porch and yard. It was a joy to give a tiny bit back to Mac who had done so very much for us.


For our closing worship, with some UNCP students and 2 folks from St Mark’s, we had students share reflections about 3 themes that came up during the week that are also part of our story as followers of Jesus: community, knowing our stories, and imagining a new future. And we gathered around the meal where Jesus meets us- among the community and in the midst of our communal story. The meal where Jesus invites us to imagine the new future that will be reality one day.


For the offering, we invited students to write what God was calling them to do after this week. Many are inspired to continue to serve their neighbors and actually be involved in the lives of others. And several students felt called into deeper community after experiencing the strength of it on this trip, including several who were inspired by Mac’s connection to the community. And still others want to return home and share stories of the Lumbee and amplify their voice as they fight for federal recognition. May God go with these students and empower them in their sense of calling!

 Click here for photos of the day

Day 5: The challenges to community (and building some shelves)

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 23, 2017 at 12:25 AM

This morning started back at the Church and Community Center, finishing up insulating the walls so a group from Charlotte, NC can hang sheetrock on Friday. The rest of our group learned by MUCH trial and error how to assemble metal shelves from piles of supplies in a warehouse. They are old shelves form a discount store that will now hold groceries for the food pantry. There is something healing about building something with your hands and seeing a tangible promise that this building will soon be doing its work of serving the community again. 18 shelves later, we had it down to a science!


The Housing Director and the Executive Director shared a little about the Church and Community Center’s history- it was begun in 1969 in response to rising domestic violence, hunger and need for assistance with heat and electricity. Those are still some of the core needs over 40 years later, because a lot of manufacturing jobs moved out of the county and also because poverty is too often generational. They said their food pantry shelves are rarely full and they are at the mercy of donations in order to be able to give things out. And although they start good programs, they can only run them until the grant money runs out. Robseon County is the poorest in NC (and also the most diverse rural area in the country) and the challenges are not easy to turn around.

Click here to see photos from the day


From our serving, we headed to the Museum of the Southeast American Indian at UNC Pembroke and Alysha explained a lot about the tribal structure to us. She told us about how to gain membership in the tribe- that it includes tracing your lineage to someone listed as “Indian” in the 1900 census. But beyond that, there is a focus on kinship and your intention to stay connected to the community. There is also a written test about the stories and the significant people in Lumbee history. Your blood ties are not enough- you need to have an intention to remain a part of your people to truly be a part of the tribe. A little like following Jesus- baptism may seal you, but you need to keep following if you are going to be a part of the tribe of Jesus followers. And in order to stay connected, around July 4th, there is a 12- day long homecoming celebration where tons of people come home to their people to celebrate and be family.


And she told us about the tri-racial school system that existed in Robeson County up until the 1950s, with separate schools for whites, blacks, and Indians. And how many people in days past hid their American Indian identity because it was meant discrimination and poor treatment. As Native American identity is seen differently now and is embraced, Alysha said that designation as Indian has been reclaimed as a uniting terminology among the Lumbee, a tribe that is an amalgamation of American Indian people in this area of North Carolina that officially chose the name Lumbee for themselves in 1956 (although this was a common name for Native people in this area back to the 1600s.)


We asked what defines the Lumbee culture and she said a sense of community, religion, a unique dialect (although their original languages are lost) and a sense of place. With more than 55,000 members, the Lumbee are one of the largest tribes in the US. Yet, even though they are recognized as indigenous people, they have no rights in the federal government. They are the only tribe with that unique designation and one that they continue to fight to change and feel they are on the verge of being given rights by the federal government.


While some of us went to finish up constructing the shelves from earlier, the rest o the group went to the Lumbee Boys and Girls Club to help with the after-school program. One of the workers told me about the challenges the kids in the club face- about 40% of them come from single-parent homes, with many kids not knowing their fathers, while others are being raised by grandparents. After hearing so much about the deep value of community among the Lumbee, it was jarring to hear about the same challenges we face in Baltimore. We try to make other places idyllic- to think that there is a beautiful place where the problems we face don’t exist- but the challenges in our American culture deeply affect the Lumbee population the same way they affect other communities.


Dinner tonight was a little vision of God’s kingdom. Some visiting Chinese scholars at UNCP were showing their appreciation to the people of Pembroke UMC for their kindness by cooking them a traditional Chinese meal for their regular Wednesday Bible study group of members. And we joined in by bringing pasta- a college student staple. And we ate and shared stories and there was more than enough. The Scripture for the evening was from 1 Timothy and was about how the Christian community should care for widows- reserving their monetary care for those who had no family to care for them. The Church has always been responsible for being family to those who have none. It has chosen to be an alternative community- connected to strangers by the shared love of Jesus- and responsible for each other out of that love. This alternative family was on display tonight and it’s a similar reality that exists within the connected lives of the some of the Lumbee folks we have met.

Click here to see photos from the day


Day 4: Rivers, campfires and long-term recovery

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 22, 2017 at 1:05 AM

With weather gettng up to the 80s, we took a day to enjoy the beauty of God's creation.  We spent the morning floating down a part of the Lumber River and eating lunch at River Way. Mac Legerton, our guide, runs River Way environmental center and it also serves as an income generator for the Center for Community Action that he runs.  It was a great day to be paddling, despite our less-than-great steering skills, and a great day to be singing on the river.  The beauty of the river was in contrast to the plastic bags hanging in the trees and a "trash island" that had formed near some downed trees.  When the waters receeded after the flood, they took with them all sorts of deris from roadways and deposited them in the river.  One of our brave kayak teams when along puling bags out of trees (while our canoers focused on not tipping over.)  There was much laughter and singing of all water-themed song we could think of- all until we entered the wetlands.  Mac brought us in there to see the blue heron nests.  There were 2 herons in the trees and when the distant sirens died down, it was a sound of sheer silence as the herons circled overhead.  It was the sheer silence like some of our students shared about in devotions a few days ago- the prophet Elijah experienced on the mountain God's presence in the sheer silence.  We stayed there for about 10 minutes and our students spoke of that as a moment of utter peace and something that they didn't even know they needed until it happened.  Being in creation does that- it connects us to a part of ourselves that we forget and it connects us to the voice of God that we didn't even realize that we had failed to listen to.  We pray that in the midst of the stress and frsutration that the flooding has brought, those affected would be blessed with a peace like this.  Because we all need to take the deep breath that nature lets us take. 

After lunch by the river (with a few folks jumping in the freezing cold water), we went to the long-term recovery group that meets weekly.  Disaster relif coordinators, pastors and others helping with the recovery meet to coordinate services and network with each other to determine the best way forward. They don't have much money themselves- only $15,000 as a committee- but they can come together to make sure that all residents are cared for, that case management is given to all that can use it, and avoid duplicating services. 

There are still 149 families living in motels 5 months after the flooding.  Although there were ony 4 deaths from the flooding, folks here say there has been an uptick in the death rate the past several months as exhaustion and grief set in.  That's why one group has been set up to care for emotional and spiritual needs of these 149 families.  Some of the students gathered with this group to learn what they had planned- but there was only one member of the committee present.  It felt like we were just taking up his time being there, but then he asked our thoughts.  And we shared from our own experiences (including our connections already with the Community Engagement Office at UNC Pembroke- college students always need service hours!). And you could see this one man's energy pick up a little after we chatted.  This wasn't anything big and that energy may not have lasted, but it was a reminder than in the midst of a disaster, those outside the situation can bring the gift of a new set of eyes and can hold onto hope for those who are too weary to carry it themselves.  We can't clean everything up, we don't often have the best ideas of how a community can recover, but we can hold onto hope and vision for them at times when the going is too hard.  And sometimes we get the privelege of being that hope.  One of our students heard about a 90-year old woman who still hasn't had her house cleaned up.  We will call tomorrow to see if we might be the help she'd been waiting for.

After dinner, a few of our students helped with childcare for a substance abuse recovery group while the rest of us got ready for a campfire.  There was singing, story-telling and s'mores.  And we did what we do every single night- we relect on where we saw God at work or a question with which we are struggling.  And it's amazing during this sharing how the experiences we are having intersect with the challenges we brought with us into this week- the stuff from our lives back home.  That's where God so often chooses to show up and where we most recognize God's presence- in things that may seem small to others, but seem like God speaking right to our hearts through the challenge or the forgiveness that we desperately needed.  And we pray that God will keep being up to that work when we head back to physical labor tomorrow!

Click here to see photos from the day

Day 3: Raising a fence, installing insulation, and dancing- it's all about community!

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 21, 2017 at 12:15 AM

Community- that's the word that came up over and over as the students' reflected on their day.  It was everywhere and it was beautiful.

We began the day at the Lumber River, which we'll be floating down tomorrow.  We joined our guide Mac at the River Way environmental center where he asked us to try something he didn't know was possible.  The fence of the center had been knocked down by a tornado that came through and he didn't know if it could be saved.  With every student pushing, it took about 5 minutes for the fence to be standing up again and braced with wood to make it stay.  Community makes possible what we can't do on our own.

Then we headed over to the Church and Community Center, the largest relief organization in Robeson County, which provides a thrift store, a food pantry, and case management among its services. The building had been heavily flooded and rebuilding the inside has begun.  We arrived to tasks that seemed enormous- clearing debris from the backyard including deconstructing moldy wooden shelves, scraping linoleum glue off the floor and installing insulation for sound proofing in an office area that will provide case management.  By the time we left that afternoon, we had insulated 8 1/2 rooms, fought mightily with the linoleum glue and won at least a little, and the debris in the back was gone.  It was a joy to be of service, to be tired out by the work in God's kingdom.  But what struck the students even more was how we worked together- us 16 students and 3 leaders.  They were thankful for  how community was created as we work toward a shared goal, even one that was exhausting and frustrating (linoleum glue is the worst!)  Get to know you games and conversation starts to build community, but shared work in the same direction brings us together even faster.  God finds a way to bless us even through tedious work. 

Although students were grateful for the work to do, at least one wondered if this was the best way- a buch of college kids doing he work while many in the county were unemployed.  Wouldn't it be more just to offer this work to people needing jobs and then pay them for it? Shouldn't we instead offer the community monetary support to rebuld themselves to the extent they are able?  Good questions to struggle with.  But the reality that sometimes volunteers are easier to raise up than money.  You have to decide whether getting the food pantry running sooner is more important than giving a few people jobs for a little while.  God's answer may be different each time and people of faith are called to keep asking the question.

With arms exhausted and community built, we took a break for treats- first by picking SO MANY early season strawberries at Locklear Farm, a Lumbee owned farm.  And then, with free ice cream cones at Dairy Queen for the first day of spring.  And thus continues our tradition in campus ministry- 8 straight years of obtaining free frozen treats on the first day of spring!

Our evening ended at the Lumbee Boys and Girls Club for their weekly cultural night.  We gathered in the gym to gather in prayer and singing, with men gathered around a large drum that they treat with the respect they would show an ancestor.  They drummed and sang, similar songs to what these same men played at the pow-wow on Saturday.  And then we finally got the answers to some of our pow-wow questions about the symbolism of th dances.  Pow-wows have historically been a way for different tribes to come together and share dances and now are judged, too. We learned about the grass dances, historically the first ones performed in order to clear the fields for future dancing.  And the fancy dance or butterfly dance, danced with a shawl outstretched like butterfly wings, was a modified war dance (which is really a storytelling dance) created for women.  We were invited to join in for the traditional dance- the easiest ones for beginners to learn.  Even though it was the easiest, it was quite obvious that some of us were cut out for dancing a little more than others.  But it was powerful to dance along with the sound of the drum.  Reggie, one of the cultural leaders, told us that they dance and sing for their physical, mental and spiritual health- this clears ther mind and connects them to themselves and their stories in a deep way.

Little kids through elders were there tonight, helping to teach about their culture and dance, with elders encouraging the younger members to be the ones to tell the stories.  But this culture night wasn't for our benefit- it happens every week so that the community can remember who it is and who it has been.    And it's a time to be together as a community.  Tonight babies were passed around, people supported each others' prayer requests by beating on the drum, and they deeply enjoyed each others' company.  It was a vision of community that many of our students long for.  A people connected by stories, traditions and a shared love and sense of responsibility for each other.  This is a vision of what the Christian communtiy has been at its finest moments- being rooted in the stories of Jesus and his love for us so that we live it out by caring for each other and all the other folks that Jesus loves.  It's a vision that brings people in not by force, but by fascination.  A vision that we can't always articulate that we long for until we see its beauty in front of us.  This is not to say that this Native communtiy or any community is perfect or easy, but it reminds us of a longing within us to be connected to each other and to the stories that tell us who we are.

See the photos from our trip by clicking here!