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Good Friday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 19, 2019 at 8:55 AM

Luke 23:26-49


(Click here for the whole passage)


The Crucifixion of Jesus

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’


Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’


One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’


The Death of Jesus

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.


Reflection

Whenever I talk with my students about Holy Week, we tend to talk about the disciples- about Judas and Peter and the rest and how they acted.  Because we understand weakness. We understand failure and evil and fear. We understand running away and protecting ourselves. But love? A love so powerful that it can walk right into death for the sake of ungrateful people? That is a love that we cannot explain. That as often as we tell the story, still does not make sense to us.



We cannot understand his unwavering obedience to all that the Father called him to in this world. We cannot make sense of a love that loves so desperately that it will look us deserters in the eye and still love us. Without anger. Without derision. Without spite. With nothing but utter love. Even as it is in agony. It’s love that suffers abandonment and physical pain beyond our comprehension and still, still looks on us with a love deep enough to heal us.


It is a love that is too good for us. A love that makes us look at the cross with horror and gratitude when we see the lengths that this love goes to for our sake.


 

Jesus acts his love on us- love for all of us who don’t know how to love- so that we might have a chance to be transformed. So that we might glimpse the glory of God so clearly in his body on the cross that we might know what love God has for us. And for our brothers and sisters. And to know what love and glory and forgiveness and joy and justice is possible in our world.


 

The cross breaks the power of all that distorts the image of God in us. Our betrayal and denial and fear are no match for the face of love on the cross. The ugliness in our world and in our own lives does not get to be the last word. Jesus stares down all that we have done wrong, all we have been too cowardly to do, and all the evil that simply overwhelms us in order to strip those things of their power. In order to make us whole again in his love. So that we might have a different future and a different story.


 

And that means that wherever we would have been in the story- Judas the betrayer or Peter the denier or one of the other disciples who deserted him- Jesus would always be on the cross. For us. For all that is broken and in pain in our world. Jesus would always be on the cross because we could not be.


It is not right. It does not make sense. But it is holy. It is love. It is God. And it is our hope.

Maundy Thursday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 18, 2019 at 8:20 AM

Luke 22:14-34, 39-46


When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.


The Dispute about Greatness

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.


Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’


Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’


Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the Passover like our Jewish brothers and sisters will do beginning on Friday night.  And Passover  is always a joyful feast. It’s a time to remember when God saved the Hebrew people. To remember how Moses told Pharaoh to “let my people go.”  and how God saved their first-born children from death and how God brought the Hebrew people through the Red Sea and into freedom. It was a joyous occasion.


And then, in the midst of this celebration, Jesus picks up the bread, blesses it and breaks it, saying that it is his body- given for the disciples. And then he picks up the cup, which he says is the new covenant, the new promise which his blood will bring. And that’s a sure way to kill a party! This is a feast about how God saved life and Jesus is talking about giving up his life.



He’s told these same disciples about his death 3 times before, but tonight he stops in the midst of the celebration to take the cup and tell them again that he would pour out his blood for them. He says that he will break himself open for their life, for there was nothing he will not do for the life of his people. He is trying to prepare the disciples for what is to come, to explain his life-giving love for them. But again he has exhausted words. So, tonight he lets the broken bread and cup of the wine speak for him, just as his bruised body will speak for him tomorrow.



Again, Jesus is trying to tell them, “I love you.” I love you so much that it breaks me apart. You may not be able to understand my words right now, but remember this bread and this wine. I have broken it for you, I have given it for you. Hold onto this bread and remember the desperate love I have for you. Remember me every time you share it with your sisters and brothers who gather around the table together as family. This is my love for you. This is love.  The bread and the wine. Our Lord being poured out in the cup. This is love.



Love. That is the kingdom that Jesus has been preaching. And love is the kingdom that Jesus is showing us today. And love is the reality that we live our lives within.  And love is the life that Jesus is calling us to live.


Share that love today- through a meal shared with someone who needs to know the lov of friendship or through serving someone who needs to know the goodness of kindness and love in their lives.  And share that love by praying for brothers and sisters who struggle, even if you do not know their names.  Jesus does, and that's enough. 



Spy Wednesday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 17, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Luke 22:1-6


Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.


Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.


The story of Jesus' last week make us confront the worst in human nature- cowardice, fear, anger, jealousy and violence.  They are things we know hide within humanity and they are on full display in the events of Holy Week.  But of all the horrible things that happen this week, the one that is most debated is Judas' betrayal of Jesus. Why would someone who had been one of Jesus' closest followers choose to betray him? 


Some say that he was frustrated with Jesus because he refused to be a political leader who fought against the Roman occupying force.  Some say he didn't like the unrest that Jesus caused while turning over the tables in the temple. Two of the gospel accounts (Luke and John) say that Satan had something to do with the betrayal- how else can you describe turning the Son of God over to be arrested?  And some applaud him as a martyr or a hero because he set in motion the events that would bring God's salvation to us. 


You can struggle with the story and decide for your own self.  But Judas' betrayal also makes us look at ourselves and see the moments when we have turned on those we once loved- sometimes because of how they hurt us or sometimes because we dislike something about ourselves that we see in them.  And Judas makes us look at the times we have run away from God- when we just couldn't trust that love was for us or that it meant all that much, anyway.


But we don't remember these painful moments to beat outselves up.  This week when we look at Judas, we also look at Jesus, whose cross shows us the length that forgiveness goes.  Forgiveness that extends to us, even when we don't think we deserve it at all.  Forgiveness that our loving God gives simply because we need it to be whole again.  We need it to love others again.  Today, do what you can to restore a relaitionship that needs mending.  And also stop and enjoy the life-giving forgiveness that comes despite our mistakes. 

Holy Tuesday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 16, 2019 at 7:35 AM

Luke 21:1-4


[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’


Jesus is in Jerusalem during the festival of the Passover.  Lots of pilgrims have come to the city, so it's crowded and great for people-watching.  And Jesus sits outside the temple's treasury (that same temple where he just turned over the tables in frustration!) and he notices who goes to give the work of God's people.  He sees the rich folk in fine robes doing their best to be noticed for how much they are giving.  And he also sees the one who put in what she had.  It wasn't enough to keep the temple going, it would have been overlooked by many.  But Jesus honors the heart that gives, not the size of the gift.  And he recognizes one who's heart looks like his own. 


But I've got to say, this passage makes me a little uncomforatble, too.  Does Jesus really expect those without much economic means to give "all they have to live on" to the temple or to the church?  Even though I'm sure this passage has been used by some to mean that, this isn't who Jesus has shown himself to be in the rest of his ministry. 


Here Jesus is turning his disciples away from the rich and powerful to see the dignity and faithfulness of one they might usually ignore.  He's reminding them that those who are great in God's kingdom are not the same as the ones the world calls great.  And he's reminding all of us of the cost of following- it's not giving when it's convenient.  It's giving what we have and who we are to God even when that calls us beyond comfort.  


It's not about giving money to the church- it's about giving ourselves to the work of God in the world.  Sharing food with the hungry, sharing time with the lonely, sharing love with the unwelcome, sharing hope with the despairing.  Even when we don't feel we always have enough of those things ourselves.  Because this is who we are as God's people.  Giving what we can and receiving from our neighbors when we are the ones in need. 


Today, share some of who you are or what you have with someone who needs it.  And if it's beyond your strength right now, then recieve the gift another gives you in love. 



Holy Monday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 16, 2019 at 12:15 AM

Luke 19: 45-48


Then [Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,

“My house shall be a house of prayer”;

but you have made it a den of robbers.’

Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.


After Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to crowds welcoming him as king, he goes into the temple courtyard and drives out those who are selling animals for sarificial worship.  They aren't necessarily doing anything wrong- they are just upholding the necessary religious duties. But Jesus turns over the tables because the whole system of sacrifices in the temple had become a distraction. People were so focused on what sacrifices to give that they were  missing what else God was doing in the world- meaning th presence of Jesus and his life-giving, welcoming, healing life among them!


Instead of a sacrificial system- where we need to make sure we’ve given the right sacrifices to please God- we have a God who shows us the lengths that God’s love will go to rescue us. We have Jesus who walks the way before us to be our guide in loving our enemies and serving our neighbors. We have a God in the flesh who shows us the overwhelming power of love to bring new life.

 

And this reality is so life-changing and powerful, that Jesus is willing to turn over the tables to make sure that people won't be distracted from it.  And he keeps doing that- in the world and in our lives.  He comes to mess up our lives to rescue us from ourselves and all the ways we har ourselves and let others harm us.  Jesus loves us enough not to settle for us being comfortable, but calls us again and again to live into God’s greatest dream for us- a dream he knows is possible with the power of God.   And Jesus opens us to the possibility that God can work through us to embody his desperate love for all people.But sometimes he needs to clean out a little of the stuff that gets in the way of us recognizing what God is doing in and through us. 


Today, clean off a small space on your desk or remove one distraction so that Jesus can get your attention this Holy Week, so he can show you again the life-giving love he brings to you and the world. 


Palm Sunday reflection

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on April 14, 2019 at 7:05 AM

Luke 19:29-40


[Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

‘Blessed is the king

who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,

and glory in the highest heaven!’

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’


Today marks the joyful parade that begins Holy Week. The crowds and the disciples are cheering Jesus on as he comes into Jerusalem.  He comes in humbly, on a donkey.  In the Jewish Scriptures, this was the way the true king comes.    So the people were overjoyed that this miracle worker was coming to them.  "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" they shout.  Because they trusted that this Jesus was going to change their lives.  They were oppressed by the Roman government and they hoped that Jesus would change all this, that he would start a revolution.  That he would come through with a mighty hand and clean everything up- everything that's going wrong and everything that hurts their people!  And who doesn't want someone like to that in their corner- a superhero to fight for you! 


But they can't yet understand that Jesus' way to save us won't be what how want.  Powerful force will not be Jesus' weapon to deal with all that's wrong in the world.   He won't be knocking out enemies right and left.  But for today, they have hope that everything will change.  That their world will look different.  That God is up to something in Jesus.  That their king is coming.  And the only way to greet a king is with joy and shouting and with expectation.


If Jesus was walking into our neighborhood right now, how would you welcome him?  And what would you hope for and expect him to clean up in your life or in our hurting world right now?




Taking up our crosses leads to life

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 17, 2018 at 11:50 AM

Mark 8:27-38


Who do you say that I am? It’s one of those haunting questions that Jesus says to us. To everyone who follows him. And our answer- the answer in our heart, not the well-polished church speak we can recite, makes all the difference in how we live.


But it’s one of those questions that stops us in our tracks. We’d say he is a good example and someone who points us back to ways of justice and love that God intends. He’s someone who loves well and speaks about God. That’s what the disciples around Jesus say this morning, too- he’s a prophet sent by God.


But that’s not the answer Jesus was looking for. Those things describe what he’s already been doing. Jesus is asking why they are following, what they see in him and how they understand his mission. They are asking who he is for them.


And it’s the brilliant and flawed disciple, Peter who speaks of a truth that he can’t see, but he somehow knows. That Jesus is more than the prophets before. He is the one they’ve always been waiting for. “You are the Messiah, Jesus.” You’re the one we’ve been waiting for. The one that God promised would come to rescue us. Who will set the world right. You are our powerful God come to us.


And I can imagine how proud Jesus was- finally someone understood who he was and what he was doing in the world. And in the joy and truth of that moment , Jesus goes on to speak the rest of his mission- that he will be misunderstood, demonized by the religious elite and eventually killed by the same Romans that Peter thought he would conquer. But even then, life will win out.


Even though he’s the Messiah, he won’t be a vanquishing hero riding in to put the Romans in their place. Not a superhero who can defeat all his enemies and stay unharmed. Jesus says he will suffer for the sake of his people.


And Peter’s whole hope crumbled. He was so happy he finally got the right answer, but Jesus doesn’t seem to understand what it means to TRULY be God’s Messiah. And he objects like a man whose heart is crushed. No, no, Peter says. This isn’t the way. Our God is mighty. Our God wins. Our God makes a way for us. When I said Messiah, I meant the winner. The one who would make us win. The one who would save our lives from all that threatens us.


And isn’t that who we want some days- the one who’s going to knock out all the people perpetrating injustice against our neighbors, to ride in on a horse to save us all. Who’s going to fight all the people who oppose us. No, Jesus, we want you to be a superhero without all this suffering.


But funny thing, Jesus doesn’t take our opinions under advisement or listen to our objections about the way God works in the world. So Jesus tells Peter, “You’ve misunderstood the my work in the world, Peter. You’re desperately trying to protect me from harm and struggle because you’re also trying to protect yourself. It’s human and I understand it. But it’s not the way the kingdom of God works. Because it’s not the way of love. So might and power and keeping myself safe cannot be my way of life. And even more terrifyingly for you, I call my followers to follow me in this way of living.


So Jesus says- I am setting my mind and heart completely on God’s hope and intention for the world. I’m going to follow the path of relentless love for all creation with whole-heartedness and I’m going to suffer the consequences of living like that.


And then Jesus says those words that are so terrifying and misunderstood, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”


Jesus lays out an astonishing difficult and beautiful path before all his would-be followers. A path that promises to lead right to the heart of God. And we, like humans often do, have all too often taken those words and totally messed up their meaning.


The church has sometimes used Jesus’ words to justify any hard and painful thing in life as God-imposed suffering or used it as a reason to ignore the suffering of our brothers and sisters. We’ve used these words to justify staying in abusive situations. And those inside and outside the church have even cheapened them, calling annoying bosses or a lack of air conditioning “just our cross to bear.”


And in all that, we’ve misunderstood what the cross is about. Jesus taking up his cross wasn’t a crappy thing that happened when he was out living his life. It was a natural result of preaching about and living out the truth of God’s kingdom in a broken world that wasn’t ready to hear it. The cross was something Jesus willingly took on as the consequence of loving God and humanity relentlessly.


But some of the things we talk about as our crosses are just painful things that happen to us in life. Things that have nothing to do with love. Things like diseases, floods, accidents and abuse. These are things that threaten to destroy us and these are situations that God sometimes works through to change us, but they are not things we choose to take on because of love. They are burdens that we bear, or evils that we fight against, but not crosses that we take up.


Our crosses are what we choose to take on out of obedience of Jesus’ reckless command to love God and love others. Our crosses are fighting for safety on our streets even when it puts us in danger. And carrying God’s message of love to places where people don’t want to hear it. And speaking up when people ignore God’s call for justice. And fighting for those that are forgotten and neglected when it seems like no one is listening.


Taking up our cross means following where God’s love leads us, no matter the cost. It means being ignored or hurt by those we’re called to love, but refusing to stop loving in response. It is to love even though relationships end, love ones die, and people disappoint us. It is to keep speaking peace in a violent world. And it is to accept whatever struggle and the suffering comes as a result of your work.


Taking up our crosses is not martyrdom or seeking out suffering. It’s not smiling though everything that happens to you. It’s not accepting abuse. It is making God’s will your guiding star and God’s promise of healing and peace your surest hope. It’s running after them with such strength that fear doesn’t have a chance to deter you. And accepting the suffering and the consequences of living like this.


Because despite every evidence to the contrary, we are people who have the audacious trust that the cross didn’t just mean suffering. That through some miracle of God’s love, it also brought renewal and resurrection. It showed us the beauty and joy of power of the kingdom of God. And it showed us what abundant life- life completely ordered in God’s way looks like. Taking up the cross is what lead to enduring life for Christ and for us.


So we take up our crosses because it leads to the abundant life Jesus promises. That’s why we act in love toward others no matter how often we’re hurt. It’s why we fight for justice when we’re surrounded by injustice and spread kindness in the midst of evil. Because these are actions that lead to life. These are things that lead straight toward the heart of God and straight toward God’s perfect kingdom.


And Jesus promises that when we live our life drenched in his love and with our minds focused on his justice, we will find life. True and enduring life. The life that matters before God and that matters in our world. For those who lose the path the world makes for them for the sake of following after me, Jesus says, they will find life abundant.


In this life, we will be forced to accept burdens that come into our lives. That’s not something we’re given a choice about as unfair as that reality is. But, we are all invited, called and beckoned to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. To help usher in a new way of being on this earth, to be a part of the transformation of the world even by small steps. And we do not walk this way alone. We go with Jesus making the way before us holding us up when we are weak and loving us even when we fail and run the other way at times. And we go with a community audacious enough to trust that the way of Jesus is the way that leads to life for all of us together.


People of God, we are given a dreadfully hard privilege- to carry our crosses toward life. We are invited to defy the world by taking on struggle that means something. We take up our crosses in the midst of evil as a sign to ourselves and a sign to the world that we are working toward the vision that God has promised will be a reality one day. We walk, limp, drag, or crawl with our crosses as people who trust that Jesus knows the way that leads to life for us and for our world.


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.