Sermons preached at Sunday Evening Worship (5pm on campus) led by Lutheran Campus Ministry.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on May 7, 2013 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
Less than 17 days until graduation. For all the seniors out there, the countdown is in its last days. Most of the seniors I've been talking with are a combination of excited and terrified about what comes next. Their whole lives they have known what comes next- there’s always been a plan. High school, then college. And in college, your professors and advisors tell you what the plan is, whether you like it or not. But these days, with jobs hard to find, there is no plan anymore. Our seniors are worried about being on their own and figuring out know what to do next. They’re worried about the days ahead, just like we all are at life’s big transitions.
And I imagine that the disciples were feeling like that, too in the lesson we read. Because Jesus is telling them, these people that had given up everything to follow him, that he is going to leave them. Their teacher and their guide is gong away. And they want to know what comes next for them- how will they know the way to go? How will they get through life without Jesus beside them?
And Jesus, who is always at peace when we are worried and a mess, assures them, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” So don’t worry, keep doing what you’ve been doing while you’ve been with me and God the Father and I will move in to your lives and always be around.
When you love me and live in my ways like you’re doing now, Jesus says, I will never be far away. So keep treasuring who I was among you and the words I spoke to you. Let my dreams and ideals become your own. Love my dream of the future so much that you can’t help following in my footsteps. Do all that and I’ll be living among you in ways you can’t imagine. Keep walking the path I walked and learned to trust me and not your own strength, Jesus says, and I will be so apparent to you and your community that it will almost be like I never left.
Jesus is saying what many of us have experienced at times as a Christian. When you love Jesus and follow him, something new is born in you and in the community of Christians. Somehow you have a wisdom deeper than before. And you share a love that is more profound than you do with other random groups of people. We may talk about it as love or wisdom or being of one heart, but it is a power beyond ourselves. It is the experience of God living among us.
The disciples thought this feeling only appeared when Jesus was with them, but Jesus was telling them that this truth, this knowledge, this love wouldn’t leave when he did. It would always be with them to support them as a community. Sometimes it would be harder to understand because they couldn’t hear the words coming out of Jesus’ mouth, but it would still be there and they would learn to hear it and trust it.
But Jesus tells them they couldn’t just expect it to appear on command. They couldn’t just do whatever they wanted in the world and expect this wisdom to appear to them when they snapped their fingers. They had to live their lives as they were already doing- loving Jesus, hearing his word, serving others and praying. They had to keep making Jesus’ vision their own. Then Jesus would be with them.Because this, Jesus told them, is how I will appear to my people. Sure, there are moments like the apostle Paul knew where Jesus knocks you down in a blinding light and tells you just what to do next, but that’s not how God usually shows up.
God has always worked through Scripture and prayer and the community. Jesus is reminding his followers that the God who has worked like this throughout history will keep acting like this. They are not alone, they are not without access to God’s wisdom and comfort and leading in the world. The leading will not be like sitting on a hillside with Jesus and hearing the reassuring voice of their Lord in their ears, but God’s presence will be there. In fact, as they keep on doing what they know to do- remembering the words of Jesus, healing and feeding others, praying together and continuing to meet together- Jesus and the Father are going to move in. Set up their home among that community and in the hearts of the believers.
And then the Spirit will come. Jesus says the Spirit will come to “teach you all everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. As you’re loving me and following me and hearing my words. As the Father and I are making our home with you, I will give you one more sure sign that you are not alone.
I am sending a Spirit- something elusive and hard to describe. Something you can’t pin down or prove. But something that will be so powerfully present that you can’t mistake it. And that Spirit will teach you everything- all the stuff you weren’t able to get in this whirlwind 3 years with me. (Kind of like all that stuff you weren’t able to learn during your time in college because you were too busy making it through!)
The Spirit will clear up what you didn’t get the first time around. Or the second of the third. The Spirit will be there to keep explaining. The Spirit will show up in those moments when you hear a sermon or a friend explain about a Scripture passage that always troubled you and you finally say, “Oh, THAT’S what God is saying!” And in those moments when you’re rereading a passage and suddenly having some part of it leaps out and grabs us, like the words were written in big letters in sharpie across our Bibles and we can’t believe that we didn’t much notice or find that important the first time around. That’s what I’m talking about, Jesus says. You think you’ll be on your own when I leave, but I’m still going to be there. You may call all those moments coincidence, but that’s the Spirit. It will come to teach you.
And the Spirit will help us remember all that Jesus has told us, too. Jesus promises that his words will come back to us at important times- just like the words of a loved one that we miss sometimes echo into our heads at strange moments. When we suddenly have just the right words to share with a friend or stranger to remind them that they are deeply and desperately loved by God. And when God reminds us of God’s words of hope when we barely have any left. That is the Spirit at work.
And the Spirit gives us echoes of the stories of Jesus in our everyday lives. When we’re in the midst of a storm that is our of control, sometimes the Sprit brings a vision of Jesus standing in the midst of the storm and speaking peace to the wind and the waves and we know that we will be ok. Or when we’re standing in the midst of hungry people and we have a vision of Jesus putting bread and fish into his disciples hands and telling them to feed everyone who was hungry and their little food was suddenly enough. And the Spirit reminds us that Jesus puts food in our hands to share and it will be enough, too. That is how the Spirit works. It comes to remind us of all Jesus was and is so that we can keep following him.
The Spirit will show up. Jesus will move into our hearts. What good news to know that we are not alone in this world, even though it may seem like that too often. That’s what Jesus tells my seniors and all of us. We have been promised that we have a God that goes with us through all the days ahead. As we Christians gather together, as we hear the word and as we try to follow as best we’re able, Jesus keeps showing up. Moving into our lives to be at home here. Moving into our church communities to pull up a chair. And the Spirit will keep blowing through our hearts and minds, through our reading and remembering, bringing us comfort and pushing us out into the world to bring God’s words and God’s healing to a world that needs it.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 29, 2013 at 9:15 PM||comments (0)|
After his last meal with his friends, after he has washed the feet of his friends, after Judas has left to tell the authorities where to capture Jesus, Jesus says, as I have loved you, you should also love one another. It’s a deep, moving time in Jesus’ life and a deep, moving time in the church- when we strip the altar and prepare for Good Friday. It’s a good time to hear Jesus telling us to love one another like he loves us.
But today- only 5 weeks later- we hear these words again. After Jesus has gone to the cross to die and done what I would bet that few of us can imagine doing for our friends, let alone a bunch of misfits.
As I have loved you, you should also love one another.
They’re words that most of us have heard before. And they’re Jesus-y words. They are what Jesus is supposed to be about- even those who aren’t Christian can agree about that. And they’re words that are good enough and important enough that they’re worth hearing again.
But they are so Sunday-school like, so well-heard, that we often don’t think too much more about them. They’re a good answer to a question about how to treat people. But we usually just say- yeah, Jesus loved people. We should, too. We know it.
But then life happens. And people tick us off. And we get frustrated and stressed and hungry and feel entitled to be annoyed at folks. Or someone really acts terrible to us. And even though we know Jesus said to love others, we don’t.
And in those moments more than any others, Jesus says again, As I have loved you, you should also love one another.
But how does Jesus love us? We probably have some good churchy words to say about it, but what does that love look like in your own life? Why does it matter? How does it change you?
Think of you very worst moment- when you behaved incredibly badly. A moment that you are ashamed of, a moment you didn’t even like being around yourself. What did it take to love you then? Not just to ignore the fact that you did wrong and look the other way, but to actually love you, perhaps even more than before? What kind of strength did that take? What did it look like to be willing to put you back on track? Loving you fiercely enough to correct you and work with you even though others may have said it’s not worth the trouble. What kind of love does it take to have someone love you back onto the right path and put all that you had done wrong far away from you so that you could start again fresh?
And what about when you were just a mess- in pain from a breakup or grieving for someone or scared about the future or having nowhere to turn? What did it look like to love you then? To love you when you were a ball of sadness, perhaps such a mess that you couldn’t even think about getting out of bed or doing the things you needed to get through the day. When you were in a place where you thought no one could help you and you didn’t even want folks to try. What did it take to love you then? What kind of persistence and patience and compassion did it take to keep loving you when you turned away? What does it mean to have someone love you back together again?
Whatever it would mean to love you at those moments is exactly what it means for Jesus to love you. Constantly. Never being too tired. Never giving up. Never turning away. Jesus loves like that. Always. And he invites us to always know that love as our starting point.
And as he loves us, he keeps whispering, As I have loved you, you should also love one another.
But how? We are a mess. We are not Jesus. So how do we have a hope of loving others like this? Well, thankfully, Jesus doesn’t quite say “Love the whole world.” Not that he shouldn’t have. But right then, he doesn’t. He says, “love one another” To his 12 disciples. He’s thinking primarily about the Christian community. Those who follow Jesus. This is to be what we do. Above our preaching, above our serving. Above our working for peace. We are supposed to love each other. As Jesus loved us. This will be the defining work that we do. Our defining symbol. The way we are known and recognized in the world. The way we first live out the kingdom. The way we first follow Jesus.
And we have a place to start this work. We have a place to practice loving ridiculously. Among those who try to follow Jesus. Who love Jesus. In a place where every single one of us are given the same command- As I have loved you, you should also love one another.
And that means it is the safest place. It’s not a place to try to be used or walked all over by loving sacrificially as others treat us terribly. Instead, it is a place for each of us to try to love how we’ve been loved while everyone else is trying to do the same thing. A place to encourage each other in this love.
So that’s the thing that should define every single group of Christians- from the smallest group to the largest. It’s the point of every marriage of Christians and every Christian family and any group of Christian friends- to be love to each other. To try it out, to learn what it means, to practice it so that the world can see it. And so that we know how to go into the world and treat others who may not know Jesus yet.
And that’s the point of every campus ministry, every congregation- to give us a larger place to learn this love. To hear it preached. To study it. To pray about this love- that it would extend to the whole world and that it would be seen among us.
And it’s a place to try it out- to practice loving folks that we might never meet any other way. To practice loving them when we don’t like them. To learn how to mess up at it and receive forgiveness. To have others correct us when we’re not doing this love thing quite right. It’s a place where we can learn to trust that our brothers and sisters in Christ want our life and health in all things, so we can be free to love recklessly.
It’s a place where we echo back to each other these words- As I have loved you, you should also love one another. In the Christian community is where we drench ourselves in the love of God and drench others in it, too.
This is who we are. We are those who love. Not just smiling at each other. Not just saying we love each other. Not just being nice and ignoring what’s wrong because it’s easier not to make a fuss. But loving each other enough to want their health and life. Wanting our brothers and sisters to know God’s love more powerfully. Wanting them to make choices that lift them up and lift the community up. Loving them back onto the right path. And loving them back together again. Over and over again.
This is who we are- people who love like Jesus. To the best of our ability, trying to echo the love we’ve known. And receive it back from others when we need it. There is much to learn in following Jesus, but this is how we learn it. And here, in the Christian community and in Christian friendships and in Christian families, is where we get to learn what it means and how powerful it is. It doesn’t end with us- it’s meant to spill out to a world in desperate need- but here is where we start.
Jesus says- here is my new commandment. One rule above all others for you. One rule to define you. Love with the same power as I have loved you. Love with the same never-ending, life-changing love as I will always love you with. As I have loved you and will love you and will keep loving you, you should also love one another. This is enough
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 22, 2013 at 5:40 PM||comments (0)|
You know what cicadas are, right? They’re that EXTREMELY loud bug that chirps so loud it’s had to sleep at night, that comes in swarms and appears every 17 years. One of those creatures that makes you go “what in the heck was God thinking with THIS one?” There are apparently yearly cicadas and 17 year cicadas, but the 17 year one come in swarms and you don’t forget it. Anyway, this is the year the swarms are set to appear around us. And a few days ago on NPR, I hear a story about them by a professor who’d been studying them for the past few years and had just discovered that that really loud buzzing sound they make is really composed of several distinct songs. They have one song for when they’re searching for a mate, another for when they’re trying to impress the mate they selected and they even make their own music as they are making little cicadas.
This whole interview wasn’t all that thrilling to me, but the guy talking about them was so excited about this discovery that he kept me listening. He was talking like this was news that would turn the world upside down. He imitated each of the different cicada songs for us. And he was so excited by the cicada songs that he had recorded a CD of them with him playing the melody line along with them on his clarinet. Now he knew what the cicadas were saying and could pick out their different songs whenever he listened to them and it sounded like this was the best news of his life.
So, as you can guess, they played a whole lot of clips of cicadas singing during this interview and, even after listening to this professor describe the different songs, all I could hear was one big, annoying buzzing, like static on the radio. I couldn’t hear their voices because I hadn’t spent the past 2 years learning their songs.
And Jesus told the religious leaders, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” My sheep, he says, hear my voice and know it’s my voice. They recognize my voice in the midst of a bunch of voices calling out to them. They can hear it and come running back to me. It sounds easy when Jesus says it, but I have a lot harder time hearing Jesus’ voice and recognizing it. But the cicada man made me think a little harder about that.
So take a minute and think about a time when you have heard God’s voice. Or thought you heard it. Or hoped that it was God’s voice you heard. Where were you then? What were you doing? Who were you with? (Does anyone want to share?)
It could have happened anywhere because God will do what God will do, but I have found in my own life that I tend to not hear God’s voice all that well when I’m really busy and thinking about all I have to do and running in a million directions.
For me, God has a way of speaking up after I’ve read Scripture or have been praying or have been on retreat. God tends to speak up after I’ve been serving others or been talking with fellow believers or out taking a quiet walk. Not always right then, but sometimes soon after. Or even quiet a while after. God can and does speak whenever, but we tend to know his voice after we’ve been listening awhile. After we’ve been studying and listening and following so that we can start to recognize what the voice of Jesus sounds like.
And maybe it’s a little bit like training. When you have a professor for a bunch of classes, you start to recognize his or her voice, even when it’s in writing. You know their phrases and the things they like to talk about. If you listen to enough of your favorite band’s songs, you might even recognize their new stuff even before you hear their voices on the track because you know their sound. We learn someone’s voice, their sound by being with them. By following them.
So, Jesus says, “my sheep know my voice and they follow me,” but maybe the following needs to come first. Maybe the studying and the serving others needs to come first. The worship and the prayer and the loving and forgiving and healing need to come first. Before we’re sure we believe. Even before we hear God’s voice. That doesn’t sound right, it even sounds inauthentic, but maybe it’s how we hear we’re Jesus’ sheep in the first place. By following. By tagging along behind him in his flock until we finally realize that he thinks of us as his own. Until we finally recognize his voice as it calls our name.
And when we know his voice, we also recognize it when it tells us, over and over, what we often can’t believe- that we are loved. Absolutely delighted in. And treasured. And not in some “everybody on the team gets a trophy so they won’t feel let out” kind of way. But treasured because we are of such value that to not love us would simply ache the heart of God. I don’t believe it a good chunk of the time- but when I hear that voice, when I recognize it, it makes me giggle. Makes tears well up in my eyes. Makes the frustration at myself and the world fade because I am loved. My shepherd says so.
And not only are we treasured, but we are promised that we will not be snatched away from Jesus’ hand. We will forever be his. Forever be delighted in. Even when we doubt that God loves us or that God exists. Even when we think this whole Jesus thing is just a fairy tale, we are promised we won’t lose our place in the flock. And when we get so deep in our own pain that we can’t hear any other voices, we are promised that Jesus has a grip on us and will fight to pull us through so we can hear his voice again. When we’re terrified and all we can hear is our anxiety, Jesus will not let the terror overcome us and will speak peace. And when we’re just bored and wandering, Jesus promises that he has one of those kid leashes on us so that we can’t get lost in the crowd. We can’t be snatched out of his hand.
And so, we learn his voice when it tells us the deepest truth- that we are loved and held onto by a power stronger than we can imagine. And we learn to hear the voice of Jesus when it calls us to go to uncomfortable places. To speak the truth when it will get us hated. When it will call us to give away what does not make sense for the sake of another’s life. And all the while, that voice will continue to say- you are treasured and I am holding onto you- now go where I send you to those who need to hear my voice through you.
In a confusing world where most of us are far too busy and distracted, be willing to take time to learn what the voice of Jesus sounds like. Take moments of quiet, take time to read the stories of Scripture. Take time to care for the needs of others and to talk about God with your fellow Christians. Learn what the voice of Jesus sounds like. Learn to recognize
Learn to hear it, so that in the midst of a world that sounds like the static of a thousand cicadas, you will learn to hear God’s song humming through in the midst and be able to follow where it leads.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 8, 2013 at 9:10 PM||comments (0)|
Last week we celebrated the resurrection like we’re supposed to. We spent a week preparing for it. We walked with Jesus through his last days, joined him at the cross and waited we he laid in the tomb. And when Jesus burst out of the tomb on Sunday morning, we greeted the news with singing. And flowers. And happy faces. And special music. And churches more filled up than we see them most of the rest of the year. We knew right what to say when someone told us, “Christ is risen!” We knew how to sing our Alleluias. Because we know how to do Easter. We know how we should welcome the news that Jesus is risen.
But that was last Sunday. The fanfare of Easter is over. The crowds are gone. And this week we are invited to settle into this resurrection news and try to get our minds around it. To figure out what it means for us. And for all those who follow Jesus with us. And for our world. That’s why we’ve come back here to hear the story of the disciples trying to get their own heads around this new reality.
These are folks who had bet everything on following Jesus. They had walked right away from their work. From their families. From their communities. And they had spent 3 years learning from him and preaching about his kingdom. They’d watched healing come through their hands, demons be cast out, and bread be multiplied. They were convinced that this guy was God in the flesh- absolutely worth giving up all they had in order to get the chance to be a part of his work. But then he was killed. And they had no idea what to do next. So they sat together, hoping they’d get a sign.
So I’m sure it sounded too good to be true when Mary said, “I have seen the Lord!” Even though it’s what they hoped for- what many of us hope for whenever someone we love dies too soon- it’s not possible. Death is the end. It is what always happens. To everyone of us. So we accept that it happens and we look for a way through it with the help of God.
But someone actually defeating death? Actually coming back to life? It sounds happy on Easter morning, but that is some scary stuff. Because it’s not just turning the clock back a few days. It means the world is completely changed. What will Jesus be like on the other side of death? And if the gates of death are opened, what other strange stuff is about to happen in the world?
And what will everyone else think? They’ll think the disciples stole his body and made up this story. And the religious leaders, who had Jesus killed, weren’t going to like that. They would probably be arrested or worse. Saying someone rose from the dead can get you into trouble. So all the disciples can think to do is lock themselves in a room together. Scared and silent. And that’s right where they are when Jesus comes.
But then, Jesus shows up. He walked right through locked doors to join them. (You know, because after you walk through death, locks really aren’t much of a challenge.) Seems impressive, but they had the doors locked for a reason- because the disciples were terrified of who might walk in. So there wasn’t a single, “Good to see you, Jesus!” coming out of the disciples’ mouths. They were too busy huddling together in fear and confusion. They were too busy holding their breath!
And Jesus knows how terrified they are. And he knows that the only way to break through it is to show them his scars. Give them some proof that the crazy news that seemed like wishful thinking was actually true. Their heads were spinning and they were still trying to catch their breath when Jesus does a weird thing (as if the rising from the dead and walking through locked doors wasn’t enough)- he breathes on them.
It’s a detail that I’ve generally ignored every time we read this story after Easter, but he breathes on them. And I have to imagine that the first full breath they finally take is to breathe in the breath of Jesus. The one who had breathed in the stench of death is now breathing out the breath of new life on them. Jesus was breathing out his new life to fill them up and take away their fear. This very one of God, who was present at the beginning of time when creation took it’s first breath, breathed on them. This one who has breathed in the sweetness of life after death is breathing out the fragrance of resurrection all around them. And like a perfume that lingers on your clothes for days, that breath was going to stick to them so that they would keep catching a whiff of it for weeks and weeks, whenever they doubted that Jesus really was alive.
But that breath wasn’t just the sweet perfume of resurrection. That breath held the Holy Spirit- that Spirit that gives boldness to those who are too shy to speak about Jesus. That Spirit that makes careful people into reckless people, following wherever Jesus’ love sends them. That Spirit that sets all of us who are too tired or too lazy or too bored on fire- knowing that we have a God-given purpose so important and necessary that we can’t sit still.
And Jesus lets that Holy Spirit loose on the disciples and they didn’t even know what hit them. That was the only way to break through their fear and give the breath of life and hope back to them. And that holy breath, that restless and reckless Spirit, wouldn’t let them go after that. It sent them across the room to unlock those doors because they simply weren’t afraid of the religious authorities anymore. It opened their mouths to actually speak the words, “Jesus is risen!” out in the world no matter what those around them said or did. And that breath gave them words to testify that Jesus had kicked open the gates of death, even when that testimony got them arrested and threatened.
After Jesus broke through their fear, this is what resurrection life looked like for the disciples. Living in the light of the resurrection meant living by the rules of the risen Jesus rather than the rules of the world. Letting Jesus’ Spirit, his holy breath be in control of what they did and how they saw life. Jesus’ breath took over their own. Their life became filled with his life. Their words became his words. And wherever they went, a little bit of the perfume of resurrection was left behind.
We may not have been in the upper room with the disciples, but that breath keeps getting passed down- every time the good news of Jesus’ victory is told again. Whether it’s told in a Bible reading in church on Easter morning or when it is told to a friend over coffee as we share how God brought life in one of the worst things we’ve lived through. And once that breath is unleashed, once the Holy Spirit gets to infecting us, we don’t get to control where the resurrection life takes us.
Because living out the resurrection means letting the risen Jesus, not the world, control your actions. It means refusing to let our fear of strangers prevent us from loving them and working for their good. It means refusing to let our fear of failure keep us from working for healing in places where there is no hope. It means refusing to let our fear of being alone and rejected keep us from speaking up when others dishonor God’s people. It means refusing to let fear or difficulty or our own agendas be in charge of how we live. But simply letting Jesus’ mission- to preach of God’s love and forgiveness and truth in our words and actions- be the one guiding light throughout your life.
And that’s how we’re supposed to celebrate Easter. It may start with flowers and alleluias and happy faces in church, but it continues by letting Jesus’ love and calling control us rather than how the world tells us things must be. It continues by living our lives with the breath of Jesus in our lungs.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 25, 2013 at 2:25 PM||comments (0)|
So, I’m betting you’ve been to Palm Sunday worship before. In fact, some of you may have already been to one this morning. And you know what it usually looks like. If there’s kids in the congregation, they’re helping to bring the palms in and hand them out. And if not, there’s still a time in the service when everyone waves those branches to remember the shouting and the joy of the crowds as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. Welcomed him as king- the one who would change the country, change their lives and save them. It’s a hopeful moment before a sad week to come.
And the people shouting “Hosanna, save us!” are like the cheers at a ballgame. They are shouts of wishful hope, hoping that this one to come will be the one to change everything. Hoping, but not yet trusting. But everyone around them is hoping and shouting and it feels right to believe. At that moment on the road as people are shouting, everything seems possible for Jesus.
But this evening we hear someone else’s view of the same scene. Because when you’re looking at the same thing, it all depends on what you’re focusing on. And when Luke tells the story, it’s a bit more calm, a bit more mournful. A telling that comes from the heart, not the eyes. Luke tells it as someone who can feel what is going on underneath the surface.
It’s still a joyful story, it’s just different. Jesus comes in on a donkey, sitting on the coats of his disciples. As a king coming to meet those who he is called to rule over. He comes just like the Scriptures always said the king would come.- humbly, but with honor. And the people around him get it- they knew their Bible a little better than most of us do and they knew what this little parade was supposed to symbolize. A man on a donkey with his supporters walking with him- this was the king that was coming to save them. And they took their coats off to throw before Jesus, hoping that if this really was the Messiah, they should honor him and get on his good side.
And the crowds aren’t the only ones who get it. Although the disciples can be pretty dim-witted at other times, this is a time that they are doing what they are supposed to. They announce Jesus as the one who is mighty, who has let God work through him, who has all power. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout. He is the one who has healed and fed and brought life and spoke of hope. The disciples testify to what they know- that Jesus is God walking with them, the one who is the king over every power and the one who brings peace in a world that just keeps warring around him. They get it and they have every reason to be joyful.
And yet, beyond their joyful shouts, they know that even all this power, all this peace, is not enough to keep Jesus safe. Or them safe. So their voices start to shake as they cry out, “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Peace in heaven, but not always here on earth, they know. They have known a bit of the uncertainty and the suffering of following Jesus. They have seen the anger that Jesus’ words cause. They have seen their friends and family turn away from them because of the one they follow.
It’s as if the disciples are saying, “I know that there is no place we would rather be, no one we would rather follow, no other one that we can possibly call king, but those words make me choke. Because it’s hard to follow you. And going another way seems so much easier.
And somewhere in the crowds, the religious leaders are getting annoyed. And nervous. And frustrated at all those who have put their hope in this Jesus. And they tell Jesus to quiet these ridiculous people. To stop them from proclaiming him king, stop this ridiculous procession and stop their shouting. But Jesus knows that the truth he brings, the peace he offers, the love he embodies can never be fully hidden. It cannot be sealed away.
Even if his disciples were shut up, even if anyone who had ever met him were silenced, his love and peace would break into the world. If they had to, the stones would announce the goodness of Jesus. The creation would erupt with joy and proclaim what Jesus’ kingdom is all about- a place where all that is broken is set right and where Jesus loves the world back into beauty. Where fear is defeated in the face of his earth-shattering love
You can try to shut them up, Jesus says- you can try to shut me up- but my kingdom is more powerful than that and it’s going to seep in through the sidewalk cracks and through all the broken spaces in life. Seal it away in a tomb, but my life cannot be stopped. You can try to quiet my people, but then the stones would cry out with my love.
But this week, the stones don’t have to cry out. Because the church will be shouting the truth of Jesus’ kingdom everywhere. Telling the story again to our world.
We’ll all be entering into an ancient story together so that it can seep into our bones. And we’ll be announcing it to all who will hear, to all the broken places in the world and all the places too indifferent to care. We will join Jesus at the supper and go to the garden with him where we can barely stay awake as he prays. On Friday, we’ll sit in the dark to hear again that Jesus has died and wonder how that makes any sense- God suffering in our place. On Saturday, some of us will hold vigil outside the tomb together as we to try to learn again what these things mean.
Not just for Jesus, but for us. Now. How they change our lives. How they change what is possible and change what we hope for in a world that is too painful and too violent and too confusing. We walk with Jesus again so we might have a chance of remembering how to walk in the rest of the world.
This week is how we relearn the deepest truths of our faith. That Jesus goes to the deepest and most fearful places for us- even to death- so that we will not go there alone. That Jesus destroys those places of terror and danger so that they will not have power over us. We learn again that Jesus looks at us with love when we have betrayed him, denied him and ignored him. And we watch Jesus love us more than his own life. And then we watch God do what cannot be done- bring life where it shouldn’t be.
We tell this story this week with the whole church so that we can learn again the truth that sets us free and that will set our world free. That through the ugliest and most painful parts of life, God’s hope and God’s live keeps seeping in. That not even death can stop God from breaking in. It is a story powerful enough to change us and all who share this earth with us. It is a truth powerful enough that even if we do not speak it, the stones would shout out.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 11, 2013 at 11:40 AM||comments (0)|
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
We start this evening at the dinner table. Where Jesus is doing the Jesus thing- enjoying the company of the wrong people. The people who weren’t good enough for an invitation anywhere else. The people who were too poor or too rowdy or who were caught up in a profession that wasn’t all that good and holy. And we know Jesus didn’t just do this once- it kind of became a habit. He kept eating with these kind of people and had the audacity to treat them like actual human beings.
And the good people got ticked off. And they’re doing what good people too often do- grumble and complain, wondering why Jesus would waste his time and risk his reputation on these unclean ones. And I’m sure that Jesus got tired of explaining himself and getting into a debate that would never end, so he just shut them up with story. A story they had to live into and find themselves in.
And it’s a story that we know so well we barely hear it anymore. It’s about a family with an irresponsible son and a father who is embarrassingly good. So good that people probably ridiculed him because he was willing to welcome back his messed up son who had wasted every last scrap of what his father had given him. And he didn’t just let him come home to stay- he ran out to meet him and gave him gifts that he was too irresponsible to be trusted with. Instead of giving this son a lecture and some strict rules, he gives him love and celebration.
And the folks listening to the story probably thought- “This is exactly the kind of crap we’re complaining about, Jesus. Enjoying people before they do right. That’s irresponsible. It’s unfair. They deserve a lecture, not a welcome.“
But Jesus just smiled. Because this story wasn’t about what was good or moral or even deserved- it is about what was needed. This was a father who knew his sons. Loved his sons. And he knew a lecture wasn’t going to change a darn thing. Lectures you can tune out. But you can’t fully tune out love, even when you want to. Love breaks your heart open.
So at that moment, when his son was broken and hungry and ashamed, the father knew he couldn’t bear a lecture. Couldn’t bear the coldness of his father merely being polite in letting him come back. He couldn’t be welcomed back into a relationship unless his father did something so full of obvious love that it took his breath away and took him against his will back into this family that he had no business being a part of.
There would be time for hard words to the younger son. There would be time for him to hear what was expected of him, time to make amends. There would be time to bear fruit worthy of a son of so loving a father. But when he was hurting and broken, he needed love first. He needed someone to take complete joy in his presence and honor him for all that he would become. He needed an embrace that ran out to meet him.
These are not the ONLY words of the father to this son. But they are the words that are needed in the moment. Because when we are broken, God gives us what we need, rather than what we deserve.
This is how Jesus’ love always is for the one who is falling apart, who has drifted far away, who has messed up. And this is something we rejoice in. And it’s usually the part of the story that we talk about. But I don’t think it’s the main reason Jesus told it. Because he told it to people a whole lot more like the elder brother. Those who were asking, “so what about us? “
What is the love for those who have stuck around? Who have tried to follow and not done a horrible job at it? What about us who have worked hard to be faithful? We’re not perfect, we’ve done some bad stuff, but like him we may not have done something so publicly bad and wasteful and sinful like this other guy. And sure, all sins are the supposed to be the same and we’ve lied and coveted and stuff, but can’t we get past being politically correct and just admit that we haven’t made as many bad choices?
But Jesus just keeps telling the story of the elder brother, the one who is supposed to know better and behave better. The one who has hung around the father long enough that he should have known his heart by now.
But instead of celebrating that his dad was doing the thing his dad did best- welcoming and celebrating and loving without limit, the elder brother can only see his father wasting his inheritance on a kid who was immature and irresponsible. Wasting his goodness of someone that wasn’t worth it. Instead of this brother seeing that he is loved by a father whose love is good enough and wide enough to love even his idiot brother, he just sees unfairness.
But thankfully, even though this brother wants to live by what is fair and wants to pout outside the party, this loving father doesn’t treat the older brother like he deserves, either. He deserves to be ignored and left outside. But the father knows he needs his dad to come to him again. To assure him of the love that he’s questioning.
It may be a quieter assurance, not as much of a celebration as he was hoping for, but his father reminds him, “You have family that you thought was gone forever. You have a brother to share your life with. And even in the midst of a party for your brother, I am standing here with you, loving you and inviting you to celebrate with me. I dearly want you to be family to each other and to know how much I love each of you. So get over yourself and let me love how I will love. Enjoy this love instead of trying to control it.. And get yourself inside to this feast!”
They seem like harsh words, not extravagantly loving ones, for a son who had done all the responsible things. But they are the only words to break through this brother’s pride and open his heart to the father’s love. The point is not following all the rules, the father says. The point is to love who I love and to be family together. That’s what I want more than anything. So quit your being responsible and just love your brother!
And just as the older brother is left with his mouth wide open in surprise, I’m sure the good religious people were left speechless. Because Jesus says what simply does not make sense. Jesus tells all the rule-abiding folk that their relationship to their these ones he’s eating with is what really matters. More than anything, Jesus says, God is the father who loves both his sons so desperately that their relationship is more important than their virtue.
So all these folks I’m eating with are your family, Jesus says, whether you like it or not. They are your nutty, inconvenient, irresponsible family. And you may do all sorts of good things in the world, live by all sorts of good rules, but if you don’t recognize these as your brothers and sisters and know the love I have for them, you don’t really know who I am. And then you don’t get to enjoy how good my love is. So get to know them, celebrate with them and then you can celebrate with me.
Because there’s a party. It’s happening whether you like it or not. God is going to keep loving your brothers and sisters AND you like this even if you think it’s a bad idea. So come and eat and enjoy the love that you get to live in and come meet the rest of your family who gets to live in this love with you.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 4, 2013 at 11:25 AM||comments (0)|
Don’t you hate coming in in the middle of a conversation? You miss out on a lot of what’s going on and sometimes it takes the rest of the conversation for you to get caught up!
So, let me save you the confusion this morning and catch you up on what Jesus has been up to. Because for some reason, the church decided to hop around the gospel of Luke in Lent and it gets a little hard to figure out what’s going on. Last week we heard what happens at the end of Chapter 13, today we read the beginning of 13 and we have to wait until the summer until we hear what happened in chapter 12. So, if you don’t have the whole gospel of Luke memorized- here’s a little refresher.
Right before the words we hear Jesus speaking today, he has just spent the better part of an afternoon telling the crowds and his closest disciples about how to live. And this wasn’t the Ten Commandments kind of reasonable stuff like don’t murder and don’t steal. This was the hard truth about what it really meant to follow Jesus- the stuff we really prefer to avoid thinking about.
He tells us that we are entrusted with our possessions and the knowledge of God’s love and we will be judged for not caring for these things well. He says that when we use these gifts for our comfort instead of building up God’s kingdom that we are guilty and will be held accountable. He says that we need to follow Jesus and set our minds completely on him even when our families object. That we need to sell every single thing that gets in the way of following Jesus. And that we need to live like Jesus is coming back tomorrow and is watching everything we do.
And that’s when the crowds get squirmy. And when they get squirmy, they do what we all do. Try to change the subject.
So Jesus, they ask, did you hear about those what the governor, Pilate, did? He killed some folks from Galilee and disgraced their families by using their blood to desecrate the sacrifice being offered in the temple. It was terrible- why did this happen?
Why do bad things happen, Jesus? That’s what we would prefer to talk about. Help us understand. What did they do wrong and how can we make sure we don’t do the same thing? How can we stay safer than they did?
And Jesus says, “Really? You think that this horrible thing happened to these Galileans because they were worse sinners than everyone else? Nope. I’m not walking into that trap because I see what you’re trying to do here.”
You’re trying to trap me into saying that these folks were worse sinners than you so that you folks are safe from suffering like them. But it’s simply not true. Life is uncertain and death happens when it will. God doesn’t line us up by how good we’ve done and smite the bottom 10%. So we cannot stay safe by staying one step ahead of our fellow sinners.
You see, the crowds were doing what we too often do- asking Jesus to line us up in order of how well we’re doing, hoping that if there is a decent line of folks behind us, we will feel better about ourselves. We want to think that because “they” are worse than us in whatever respect, then we’re ok and safer from terrible things happening to us so we don’t need to change.
People richer than I am give away less than I do, so I’m doing well enough. Other people don’t pray at all except for saying grace, so my 2 minutes a day is enough. There are murderers and abusers and human traffickers that are doing worse things than me, so I’m probably doing pretty well.
That logic never makes sense. And when we come face to face with God, this kind of “just staying a step ahead of the worst offenders” type of living will be seen for what it is. A cop out and a refusal to admit the truth about ourselves so that we can be changed. A refusal to hear God’s call to us.
So Jesus refuses to play that game. Stop talking about other people, he says, I’m talking about you! Your life. Your need to repent and be changed. Your need to follow me. That’s something that is expected of each of you, even if the people around you are acting worse. I’m not going to decide who is best and who is worst. I’m not going to let you think that you’re doing well by comparison so that you don’t have to do the work of changing.
We are ALL called to repent. Every last one of us. Because all of us are falling short. All of us are out of step with what God wants of us. Jesus refuses to set the bar low for us and say that we just have to be better than a few other folk. He asks again and again for our whole lives. Our whole selves. All we have and all we are.
And that call is urgent. Jesus says- bad things don’t just happen to bad people or as a result of God’s judgment, but “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” It’s not a threat, it’s simply the hard truth. Just like these people who were killed in such tragedies, Jesus says, unless you repent and change your life, death will come when you are not ready. It will come when you are not living out all God calls you to do. So be ready now. Give away what others need so everyone has enough. Trust me like your life depends on it. Let others know about the joy you’ve found in your God.
He’s simply reminding us that each tragedy serves as a reminder of how precious life is. How precarious life is. How we simply do not know the number of days in front of us.
So tragedies are times to reassess our OWN lives- to stop laying blame on others or deciding how we measure up against others. They are moments to see that we have neglected the things that matter and failed to live how God calls us to live, moments to remember that life is precarious and there’s no time to waste in following Jesus. No time to waste in bearing fruit.
Because, like the fig tree Jesus talks about, there’s only so much time. The fig tree had 3 years, which in fig years is more than enough time to be sprouting some fruit. The owner of that tree has been showing up every week for 3 years looking for figs and nothing. It’s not doing anything particularly bad- it’s still growing and sprouting leaves. It may not be the worst tree around. But it’s still not doing what it was made to do. It’s taking up land and soaking up precious water in the desert and it’s not doing any good with it. Instead, it’s just taking up space. And the owner is ready to cut it down.
Yet there is a gardener who loves the tree. Who still has hope that this tree is just a late bloomer. Who is willing to pour his life into caring for this tree in the hopes that it can be saved. He pleads, “let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it.”
The gardener pleads for the life of the tree. Pours his effort and his hope into this tree. Devotes his life to the tree. Because he still thinks it can grow into what it is meant to be. And he does this all knowing it was a gamble – even a long shot- whether that tree would actually bear fruit. But the gardener sees hope and sees life where others cannot. And the gardener loves that tree enough to devote all his energy to making it strong enough to bear fruit.
Jesus is telling the crowds- I’m willing to bet on a long shot. I love my trees, even when they’re not bearing fruit yet. Jesus loves us even when we are ignoring those in need and are too ashamed to share the joy of Jesus with others. Even when we are not there for our families when they need us and when we turn a blind eye to injustice. Even when we waste our time on things that do not matter and show no hope of changing. Jesus still bets on us and pleads for us, knowing what fruit we are able to bear for a hungry world.
But just because Jesus loves us does not mean that he expects less of us. Jesus knows that we were created to bear fruit- much fruit. Fruit enough to feed the world. Our capabilities and gifts may be different, but Jesus expects us to use each gift we have to the fullest, not settling for bearing less fruit than we are capable of because of what we see the person next to us doing.
Jesus pleads for our life. Teaches us, forgives us, provides for us and stands with us in joy and sorrow. He does everything possible- short of growing for us- to make it possible for us to live into all God calls us to be. But Jesus does not bear the fruit for us. That is our job and the world is deeply hungry. So, people of God, go and bear fruit worthy of the gardener who loves you.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on February 27, 2013 at 1:40 PM||comments (0)|
Genesis 15:15:1-12, 17-18
So, those of you who were here last week- we talked a lot about trust. And how Jesus was really good at it and how we stink at it a whole lot of the time. And we talked about how freeing and amazing it would be if we could trust God with our lives, our stress, our insecurities and all the rest of the stuff that is too much for us to carry. And we got a chance to think about one thing that we do trust God with and what a blessing that is. And we got to thin about how we might train ourselves to trust God with a little more in the future.
So, how’s that working out? Did bringing to mind how good it might be to trust God make any difference? For me it did cause me to think more about trust and think about how I should trust more, but it didn’t get me all the way there. I still need a little more help on that so I figured we could go back to talking about trust this week.
So, who do you think of as a hero of the faith? Someone that you look to when you’re struggling to trust God? Maybe you look to people like Mother Teresa or a grandmother or a friend- someone who seems to never waver when it comes to following what God wants of them.
I have a few people that come to mind as heroes of the faith- people that trust so well that I hope to be like them someday. But I’ve got a bit of insecurity, so I must admit that sometimes I like my faith heroes and mentors to be a little flawed, a little more like me. They give me a little more hope when I struggle.
That’s why I like Abraham. He was gung ho and impetuous and daring in trusting God and would go full speed ahead, kind of like Peter, and then he’d stop, kind of like when the roadrunner stopped running when he realized there was no ground below him. And then, the roadrunner and Abraham dropped like a rock.
God promised Abraham that he would have a land and he would have more descendants than he could count. That was pretty much the dream back then- our version of being famous, having a great house and having a statue built in our honor after we die. It was an awesome promise, but not one that’s really easy to believe unless you’re pretty arrogant.
But Abraham wanted to believe it. He wanted to trust this God who he had known in the desert. So he trusted like the best of them at first. He uprooted his family and started heading toward the land God had promised him. But then he realized what he had done- we risked it all on a voice he heard. And now he was in the midst of people he didn’t know who may hurt him. So, he freaks out and passes his wife off as his sister and lets her get to know the king better because he’s not completely sure that God’s going to keep him safe among all these strangers. Strike 1 for Abraham.
But God (and the king) set Abraham straight- a little knock to the head- and he’s off to trusting again. Well, he’s walking to the Promised Land and all, but he’s still not sold on this promise of God quite yet. And that’s where we meet him in the lesson from Genesis. We get to hear him pestering God with those questions that he’s asked over and over again. “So, you said I’d have descendants, but you know I don’t have a kid, right?” And “You said you’d give me a land, but I’ve been walking for like 5 years and nothing. So, about that. . .” I’m working on this trust thing, but you’re not making it easy. How about a little sign?
You know the feeling? Trying to trust that God’s got a hold on us when crappy thing after crappy thing keeps happening. Or trying to trust that God has a plan for our future when doors keep closing in our faces? How are we supposed to have faith when we can’t see any proof that the promise is real? How do we keep on trusting when we’re discouraged and frustrated and when everything seems to say that promise won’t come true?
If Abraham’s any indication, we start bugging God in these moments. That seems to be allowed. Sometimes the church gives folks the impression that we should be strong enough to trust God without ever questioning. And I’m thankful that in this space and in our ministry, we understand although that would be awesome, it’s probably not going to happen. Questions are going to be a part of our faith and instead of being a problem, those questions are simply opportunities to continue a conversation with God.
Because did you notice what happens when Abraham asks questions? He’s not reprimanded for his unbelief. Instead, God takes Abraham’s questions as an opportunity to show up. Abraham doesn’t get yelled at for doubting. Instead, God brings him outside to say, “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” God spoke the promises back to Abraham and gave him a sign in the sky that he could remember every night.
And then God does some weird God-stuff, asking Abraham to set up a bunch of animals as if he’s going to sacrifice them. And after Abraham spends an afternoon chasing vultures away from them, a flaming torch appears to pass through the animals as a sign of God’s promises. A sign that God can be counted on to be faithful. And as weird as it was, every time Abraham closes his eyes he can see again that flaming torch sealing the promise that God gave him.
So, maybe we’re not into trippy visions much, but a little Old Testament-like, dazzling God-display would be nice, wouldn’t it? Not that we wouldn’t doubt it, too, but really, it would be nice to get a little reassurance every time we doubted or questioned. We’d like to have something to hold onto to help us with that trust thing.
God promises us the Holy Spirit to guide us, but seeing a good tongue of fire dancing on someone’s head would be a nice assurance that the Spirit wasn’t just our imagination. And God promises us forgiveness and love, but it might be a bit more convincing if it were said in a booming God voice as the heavens were ripped open. It would be nice to have something to cling to and know for sure. Something to help us when our trust is shot.
But we don’t choose what God gives us to hold onto. Abraham didn’t choose a vision of the stars or a flaming sword vision. He simply had the opportunity to trust what he’d been given. And so do we- we get the choice of clinging to the simple, holy things that God gives us.
It seems too simple and too churchy and too trite at times, but God gives us water and bread and wine. Regular things that are signs of God’s greatest promises. Things so abundant that we’ll run into them over and over again throughout our days. Things so ordinary and yet so filled with promise that we cling to them for our very life when we are hopeless and questioning.
In baptism, our God called us by name and promised us that we will always be a child of God. Always. No matter what we do. God united that promise to the water so that the two would become one. God chose to use water, something that we touch every day. God chose something so basic so that every time we wash our hands or jump in the pool or wash the dishes we could feel that reminder of God’s gracious calling of us. When we cannot trust that we are God’s treasured child because of all the things we’ve done wrong, God invites us to trust the water. When we cannot trust that God calls us beloved because of how others have rejected us, we can reach out to trust the water. When we cannot believe that God has a hold on us when things are terrible, we can trace that cross on our foreheads and trust the water.
And God chose to be connected to the most wonderful of ordinary things- breaking bread and sharing wine and a meal with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But for all those under 21-folk or those who choose not to drink, Christ can be remembered when we share any other festive drink together- whether it’s sparkling apple juice at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving or Cheerwine with friends from camp.) Christ bound the promise of his presence to a joyful, holy, celebration meal. To the great goodness of bread and drink.
So when we are lonely, so lonely that it feels that like no one can fill that emptiness in us, Jesus invites us to hold this bread and know we are in the presence of one that dearly loves us. And when we are broken and destroyed with guilt, we can feel that grape juice on our throats and trust God’s forgiveness even when we cannot forgive ourselves. And when life is overwhelming and it seems like too much, we can touch that bread and know that we are invited into a meal and a community and a love that has no end. When we cannot trust the promises alone, we can hold that bread and that cup and feel God’s promises to us. And as we go about our days, we can touch all bread and drink as a reminder of the joyful meal we share here.
In this life we will have moments of weakness, we will have times that our faith is slippery and there are far more questions than answers. But in those moments especially, God comes to us to answer us. To give us something to hold onto. It may not be what we would choose to trust in, but it is holy and good. And it is something that we can cling to to help us trust God’s promises. So, people of God, I invite you to dare to trust the water. Trust the bread and drink. Trust the community that gathers around it. And dare again to trust the One who is always faithful.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on February 19, 2013 at 4:50 PM||comments (0)|
The temptation of Jesus. We read it every year at the beginning of Lent. We hear about the tests from Satan that threatened to take him off course. And how he passed every test. And then we prepare to hear a sermon that tells us that we should learn to resist temptation because Jesus did. We hear that Jesus resisted temptation by quoting Scripture and you can, too, and God will give you power and everything will be ok.
I don’t know about you, but sermons like that come up a little hollow for me. A whole lot of “shoulds” just remind me that there’s one more thing I’m failing at which makes me feel worse which just makes me want to give into temptation to make myself feel better. Perhaps it shouldn’t be like that, perhaps I should be more like Jesus (well, I KNOW I should be more like Jesus), but life doesn’t seem to work like that.
And frankly, I think that a lot of the time we don’t want to avoid temptation because we actually like it. Because temptation is often encouraging us to do the things that we would prefer to do, even if they are not good for us. Asking us to do what’s fun for the moment. Like being tempted to eat a cupcake when we’ve given up sweets or being tempted to procrastinate by doing something a lot more fn than your homework.
So even if I know I should be more like Jesus, it’s not a real convincing argument to tell me that Jesus was good and I should be good like him. Especially when he got crucified by doing that and I feel like I’m doing pretty well on my own. So this week I struggled to find another way to approach this story. One that is faithful to the Scripture, faithful to what God might be saying to us through it, but a way of approaching it that might actually make it a story that changes us.
Now, we know how the story goes. Fresh from his baptism, fresh from God opening the heavens and proclaiming Jesus his beloved Son, Jesus heads into the wilderness. Maybe he was on a high from hearing the voice of God and knew he needed time for this to sink in (because he was also fully human and that God voice had to overwhelm him a bit!) Or maybe he knew that God was calling him to do mighty things in the world and he needed some time away from the world to prepare himself.
But he goes. Alone. With nothing to depend on but God. He takes with him the stories of his faith that he had learned from the time he was young and the words of Scripture that rang in his head. He got rid of all the distractions and drank in the word of God. And then he let God provide. Provide for his hunger and his thirst. Provide for his sanity as he spent 40 days alone. Provide for his safety and his comfort.
And at the end of those 40 days, when he is weak with hunger and starved for human contact, Satan comes to tempt him. And he dares Jesus to make bread- to whip up some magic breakfast. And he dares him to take control over the whole world as long as he does it the way Satan would want it done. And then he weirdly dares him to jump off the temple roof and let God save him. And Jesus responds to each test with the perfect words from Scripture and seems to nail the test without even having to think twice. Temptation beat. Jesus wins. Satan exits.
It sounds like it’s about temptation, but I think the deeper reality in this account is that it’s about trust. Jesus trusts God. The wilderness has been a school for him, teaching his human self how to trust God. He has spent so much time with God and God’s word that his heart has been changed. He’s been depending on God alone for 40 das and now his heart simply trusts because that is all it knows how to do anymore. It’s automatic.
It may not seem like that big a deal, to trust God, but think about what it feels like to truly trust someone or something. When you trust you are loved, you don’t have to worry about who’s looking at you or if you are measuring up. That awkwardness and anxiety aren’t there. Your stomach isn’t constantly in knots. You look at the world with joy and not fear.
Trusting means being so clear about who you are and where you are going that nothing can sway you. It means having your roots so deep that they’re not going to be pulled up in a storm. It means that even when you suffer, you don’t lose hope. Finding one that we can trust is what sets us free. To be truly ourselves.
But some of the things we try to trust often fail us. Relationships end, health fails, jobs dry up, friends treat us like crap, our dreams get smashed up and changed. And then life is in chaos. Trust is all good until it fails us. And that is why this story about Jesus in the wilderness is so vital to us.
Because it’s about what life looks like when we place our trust in the one thing that cannot be shaken. Confident. And hopeful. Free of feeling like we have to do everything. Free of awkwardness and indecision.
This story isn’t just about Jesus being such a good, moral human being, better than we will ever be. It’s about a vision of trusting God with all we are. Being so sure of the one that holds us that we are willing to walk into whatever life brings us. It’s about knowing our purpose and our identity so clearly that our anxiety and stress and awkwardness just melt away. And we are able to be fully who we are. Who God created us to be.
But how do we get there? Saying we should trust Jesus more isn’t really any more helpful than saying we should resist temptation. So perhaps we need some positive reinforcement.
So I want you to think about what part of our life comes pretty easy for you to trust God with. And that means not that you just hope everything will be fine, but that you know- good or bad- God will keep a hold on you and you’ll be able to make it through. Maybe it’s your health or relationships with others or money. Whatever it is, write it down.
And then, what do you have a lot of trouble trusting God with? What would you rather keep control of because you’re afraid of trusting God with it? Write that down, too.
And then imagine for a minute- what would your life look like if you could trust God with that second thing? What if trusting God with that came as naturally to you as the first thing you thought of? And what is keeping you from getting there?
Some of you have already begun a Lenten journey. Some of you aren’t going on one. And some of you are procrastinators who haven’t figured out what that journey should be about yet. But in these days where the church is especially eager to support you on your journey, this might be a great time to jump in and let go. Let go of one thing that is holding you back from trusting God. Or learn one story of Scripture well enough that it lives in you and gives you words to speak when trouble comes. Or spend a few minutes or days or weeks in the wilderness- of loneliness, or hunger, or life without technology. And see what God might teach you as you trust God to provide for you.
Because trusting God is a privilege that we are given. We get the great joy of trusting that God’s words to us are not just nice things, but they are true! That we ARE loved- not in some superficial way, but in a way that reaches beyond our fears and our faults and our insecurities. That we ARE created in the image of God and that image is always there, as much as we may try to hide it or rebel against it. And that we ARE promised that God will walk with us through every step as we follow Jesus- even when it sucks, when it’s painful and when it’s confusing and risky. That God will be with us on the other side of our pain just as powerfully as God is with us on this side.
So let go. And let God be enough.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 3, 2012 at 2:30 PM||comments (0)|
Welcome to Advent. The world is falling apart and coming to an end. There are wars and famines. Stars are falling out of the sky and the seas are raging and foaming. And that’s how the church year begins every single year in Advent. It never seems to fit with the happiness of the Christmas season around us.
And it doesn’t seem to fit us as Lutherans. I mean, we know there’s end times stuff in the Bible, but we tend to pretty much ignore it and leave that for those conservative religious types. We’d rather focus on doing good Jesus-y stuff in the world.
But even though it seems weird and kind of a downer, all this end times talk is an essential part of our faith. We need to know the end to know where we are headed.
You see, Advent isn’t just a season of waiting for Christmas like a kid counting down to their birthday. It’s not just a time to remember the story of Jesus being born in a manger. It’s a time of waiting for Jesus to come into our world AGAIN. To clean up all that is a mess. To heal all that is broken. To make this world into what God intends it to be. That’s why it is a time of such deep hope and expectation. So, every church year we begin by looking to the end of history. To see what we are waiting for.
And that’s what Jesus is busy telling his disciples in the chapter of Luke we read. By the time we get to the words we hear in the gospel lesson, Jesus has already been talking to the disciples for a couple of paragraphs. He’s been telling them that the time is coming when there will be famines and earthquakes and that his followers would be persecuted and thrown in prison. And that the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded and conquered. Pretty much their world is going to look like it’s falling apart.
You’d think that much doom was enough for one day, but Jesus wants to get it all out there, so he just keeps going with the words that we hear this evening. So he tells them that after all this other crappy stuff, the sun and moon and seas will be in chaos. The sun, moon, and stars, which are just always supposed to be up in the sky doing their thing, will be changed and out of order. And the seas will be crazily stormy and the tides will be out of sync. All of nature will be in disarray.
And not surprisingly, people are going to be freaking out. Whole countries will be in chaos because they’re not going to know how to handle a world that’s gone crazy. No one else will know what to do, he says, but 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 need to stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
You’ll see the signs and know that I am in them. You’ll know how raise up your head and look the chaos right in the face. So when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” The time when I will come again in glory is right around the corner. It may look like the world is falling apart, but it’s simply getting ready for me to come again and set it right.
So pay attention to what’s happening in the world. “Be on guard,” Jesus says. “Be alert at all times.” Read the papers. Watch the weather. Listen to what is happening among the nations. And when it’s frightening and makes no sense, remember my words. That’s when the kingdom of God is near.
Face the terror with courage. Pray that you will be ready for whatever happens. 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 don’t be overcome by it. Because I am in it. I will bring this world to perfection.
When the world is falling apart- when wars and violence seem endless, when hurricanes strike where they never did before, where drought and global warming and hunger and illness make our world seem like it can’t survive any longer, Jesus calls us to have hope against hope. And to work in the direction of that hope.
And as ones who are confident instead of terrified, we are called to be the ones that care for our brothers and sisters. We’re called to act in love and compassion when others are paralyzed by fear. To bind up the wounds of those around us when others don’t think it’s worth bothering. 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 joyful 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.
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 that redeemed future will come- just as Jesus did not- only that we are absolutely assured that it will come. Simply because God has promised it.
But until then, we wait. We wait for the brokenness to be healed in our world. And that is why we so deeply need the gift of Advent. Because waiting is hard and we don’t know how to do it all that well.
That’s what we talked about last Wednesday at UMBC. We talked about how we’re into the whole instant gratification thing. And we tend to get overwhelmed by what may happen and freak ourselves out. And, since half the folks in the room didn’t come from a Christian tradition and very few of the rest came from a church that celebrated Advent, I was trying to talk about this great season of waiting that we have. One that helps us learn to wait well in all our life. And they asked, “so, what do you DO in Advent? What makes it so helpful?”
And although I love Advent, I felt a little silly telling them that the big thing we do it light candles on a wreath, one each Sunday, watching the light get brighter. And we put a deep blue cloth on the altar, the color of the sky just before morning, as a way of having hope. And we read the stories about the end of the world and about the prophecies about Jesus and the stories of John the Baptist. And we pray. In the midst of a big, fancy Christmas season, our candles and readings and prayers seemed ridiculous. They didn’t seem like enough. Just like Jesus’ promise to come again to redeem the world doesn’t seem like enough if the world is falling apart. And yet it is. Advent is enough and Jesus’ promises are enough only because the one for whom we wait is faithful.
So welcome to a holy Advent- welcome to a time in the midst of the crunch of exams, when it might seem like the world is falling apart. Lift up your heads and know that Jesus is in the midst of this trying time and in all that is chaotic and a mess in your life and in your world.
And I invite you to live this Advent in this community and ones back home, even when you think you don’t have any time. Take 5 minutes each day to read the stories of hope. To visit an Advent calendar on-line. To light a Residence Life approved candle welcome the light of Christ into the world. And join with us on Sundays and Tuesdays and Thursdays as we light candles and sings songs of expectation and call each other to hope in Jesus. As we welcome God’s presence into our world and wait with joy and expectation for God to bring this world to perfection.
For, people of God, Jesus truly is coming again. So “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”