|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 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.”
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 13, 2012 at 12:35 AM||comments (0)|
My daughter, Hannah, is 7 months old. And that means that I have all the things that come with a 7-month old, which means toys all over the place. She’s got some great stuffed animals, like an owl with crinkly wings and a duck that quacks. Pretty impressive stuff. And I’m always trying to get her to see the neat little things the animals do- showing her how she can see herself in the mirror on the owl’s wing or she can make the little owl squeak if she presses it. But no matter how many times I try to get her to notice the neat little things, she ignores what I show her to concentrate on the little tag on the back of the animal. The thing that wasn’t meant to matter. The thing that wasn’t meant to be noticed.
And I kind of imagine that is what is going on in our gospel lesson today. You see, when you read the chapter before our passage, you find that Jesus was outside the temple with the disciples. And since he was known to be a wise teacher, the crowds were asking Jesus every questions they could think of: “If a woman marries 7 brothers, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” they ask him and “is paying taxes against our religious beliefs?” They were dreaming up harder and more impressive questions for Jesus, trying to find something he can’t answer. Kind of a “stump the Son of God” contest.
And while Jesus is doing this, his disciples are busy looking around the temple courtyard. Because the temple was a busy place- kind of like Grand Central Station. There were people coming and going constantly, buying animals to sacrifice. Religious leaders were praying and teaching, all dressed in their finery. People were coming to pay their temple tax and some were dropping huge amounts in the treasury. And the temple itself was beautiful and kept them in awe. It was pretty hard not to get distracted by all that was going on and hard not to be impressed with all that was happening.
And yet, Jesus is busy looking a widow coming to put money in the temple treasury. Like my daughter, he has his eyes fixed on one that wasn’t meant to matter much. He was busy looking as one who is often ignored and told she is of no account. He ignores all that is going on around him in order to see this woman. Jesus simply notices her. Notices her gift. Notices how sacrificial it is. And he says- in my kingdom, this is what I notice.
And because I notice this one, he says, I also notice those who do not care for her. Like the scribes. And at that, the disciples probably sat up straight. Because they had been busy watching them in their fancy robes. They’d been listening to their impressive prayers. And they might have been thinking- we’d like to be like them some day, spending our time serving God here in the temple.
But Jesus tells the disciples, “watch out for them, and for those who show their religion too obviously. Those who think they deserve special treatment because they are religious. These are ones who have missed the point. They don’t care for the stranger, the orphans and the widows- something God has been telling them since day one. And then they pray about those in need so that everyone will think well of them for remembering those who are poor. They are hiding behind religion. They are neglecting the people God told them to care for.”
You see, the prophets had been crying about stuff like this for 600 years. They had been reminding the people of their duty to care for orphans and widows and warning them that it wasn’t ok to do all the right things religiously, but all the wrong things in loving your neighbor. The prophets remind us all that it is a crime against God to be comfortable and unaffected when your brothers and sisters go without.
And 600 years later, the scribes still weren’t listening. And 2,000 years later we’re not listening! We’re still doing the same ridiculous things that Jesus says to stop! We’re still ignoring the ones deepest in need too often. And we’re still guilty of covering up our neglect of justice with a lot of religious talk and prayers. Not always, but Jesus still reminds us- “beware when you do this!” For I notice those you neglect.
Because my eye is still on the ones who go without. The widows in need and those without homes. The young adults who have aged-out of foster care and don’t have family to depend on. The spouses who suffer abuse. The ones who cannot seem to make ends meet. He keeps noticing those who we don’t. And he keeps redirecting our gaze from the famous people, the shiny temple, and the religious leaders. He keeps calling us to look again at the ones we often ignore.
S Jesus calls his disciples to look at the widow offering her gift at the treasury. To see her. To see her gift. We often assume that’s because this widow is a model of virtue. A perfectly sweet and humble woman. Our Scripture never says that. She could have been a crabby person, she could have been someone that was annoying and plenty hard to love. But she was one who the people of God were called to care for. And that meant she was one who should be noticed. And seen. And loved.
And if you’ve ever heard this story before, we imagine that this is where Jesus commends her as a model of giving and tells her that her faith is honored. It’s where we think Jesus says we should all give like her. Ad where he tells her she is blessed and would have all her needs cared for. That’s usually how we think the story goes. But the truth is, even though that would make for a good story, a Jesus-like story, none of that happens. Jesus simply says, “This poor widow has put in more than all the others. She has put in everything she had.”
We don’t know whether he is calling us to give like her or to cry with her since she is being taken advantage of by the temple. We only know that Jesus notices her. And calls the disciples to notice her, too. For Jesus doesn’t much notice all the flashy and important people in the world. He notices the gift of one usually unnoticed. Sees it for the sacrifice that it is. As more sacrificial than those who put in piles of money. And more deserving of attention.
So perhaps this story is less about the widow herself and more about training the disciples to see differently. He’s trying to redirect their eyes from the fancy leaders and the beautiful temple to the ones who need to be seen. To retrain their eyes to see the people who God takes special notice of. Those who are lonely, sick or in need. Not because they are so virtuous, but simply because God chooses to love them in their need. So Jesus calls the disciples and us to see the people who are considered great in the kingdom of God. He’s trying to train all our eyes to see the kingdom that is breaking into the world. The kingdom that our eyes just can’t get used to seeing.
Because the kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom where the big, celebrated things are unimportant and the insignificant things are precious. Where trust is valued more than money. Where a widow is noticed more than a celebrity.
It is a kingdom where the hungry are filled with good things and rich sent away empty. Where the mighty are toppled and the lowly lifted up. It’s a kingdom that makes no sense to the powerful, but can be imagined and seen by those who have nothing.
And yet, it is also a kingdom where the Son of God is killed and the sinners forgiven. A kingdom where death is defeated by walking through it. A kingdom where we are celebrated before we are good and loved when there is not a single reason for us to deserve it. It is a kingdom that makes no sense, but it is the kingdom of God.
And to see the kingdom, to see with Jesus’ eyes, is to see God. To know who God is. To know the love of God for those in need and for us in our own need. The kingdom of God is among us. And we are simply invited to take notice of it and train our eyes to see it in our midst.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 29, 2012 at 3:45 PM||comments (0)|
So, a few hours before Sandy is due to hit, it seemed like it was a good time to be reading this story! Storms are scary things and the weather forecasters are scaring us even more.
And storms are bad enough, but not being a sailor myself, I can’t imagine how much scarier they must be on the water, where there’s no place to turn. There’s no ground to run to, the sky above and the waters beneath are both in tumult and you’re just bobbing along in the middle. You realize that you do not have the power to save yourself.
And that’s what so scary about storms- we know that we don’t have any control over them. There’s not a thing we can do to calm them or make them stop. We can try to protect ourselves from them and move out of the way of them, but in the end, we cannot control them. The powers of chaos are at work and we cannot do a thing about it.
So I’ve never really blamed the disciples who are out in the boat with Jesus in our gospel lesson. It seems like a pretty honest response. They didn’t bug Jesus at the least little wind. They didn’t bug him when the ship started tossing back and forth. They didn’t bother to try to wake him up until the ship is taking on water and they are literally worried that they would drown. These seem like disciples that are faithful to a point, but just can’t mange to trust Jesus 100%.
And I think I have sympathy for them because that’s usually right where we are. We trust Jesus, we tell others to trust Jesus, but then the wind gets going and the storm starts shaking our boat and we’re not so sure anymore. Maybe our health fails. Maybe we lose our job. Maybe a relationship ends or a loved one dies and we feel like the storm is going to overtake us. At those moments, the chaos is just too much to handle. And we often go running to Jesus to wake him up, to beg him to bring some order out of the chaos of our lives.
Our faith wavers just as much as those poor disciples’. I must confess that I could read this story every single day, I could preach on it every Sunday for years, and still, when the storms start coming, I can’t promise that I’d be any more trusting than those fearful disciples.
The disciples were being human, being as scared and faithless as we often are. And yet, in their fear, Jesus doesn’t reprimand them. Instead, he does what only Jesus can do. He speaks to the storm, to the forces of chaos that are all around them, and says, “Peace, be still.” And the waves subsided. The wind died down. The boat stopped rocking. And there was a dead calm.
You see, even when our faith fails, even when we fail, even when we show no evidence that we trust God at all, Jesus is still in the boat with us. Even when our faith is barely there, it doesn’t mean that Jesus holds onto us any less tightly. Jesus holds onto us by the strength of God’s faith, not our own. But how much easier would it be for us if we could trust God’s hold on us? That’s what Jesus asks is asking his disciples in the boat.
When the disciples are finally catching their breath and regaining their footing, Jesus asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” I used to hear these words from Jesus in an angry, accusing way. But after facing more storms in my own life, I have begun to hear these words in more of a pleading tone. Jesus wants them to know the peace that he has, the peace that allowed him to sleep as the storm raged. Because how much easier would that boat ride have been for those disciples if they could only have trusted the one in the boat with them? If they could have trusted Jesus to hold onto them in the chaos of the storm?
Because chaos has a way of shutting us down. Of turning off our ability to think. Of making us want to run and hide rather than be courageous and dream. But imagine what the chaos in your life would be like if you knew that it wouldn’t overtake you! If you got a little post-it from God saying- “don’t worry. I got this. Life is waiting for you on the other side of this mess.”
Because, you know, that’s kind of a God thing to do. That’s what God did in the beginning, when the world was a watery bunch of chaos. God brought order. God brought life. That’s the very first thing God did in the world and what God keeps doing. God is the one who brings order out of chaos and who rescues us when we think it will overtake us. As Julian of Norwich, the Christian mystic once said, "We are not promised that we will never be distressed or never troubled; but we have been promised that we will never be overcome." Even though there are real terrifying things in our life, they don’t need to paralyze us or have dominion over us or own us, because we are not alone in the boat. We can fear the storms, but we are called to trust God that they will never overcome us.
When our fear makes us think that the chaos, rather than God, has the last word, that’s when we need Jesus to call us back. That’s when he needs to speak to us those words he spoke to the waters, “peace, be still.” Yes, he tells us, the water is dangerous. Yes, it is threatening. But I always have the last word, even when it seems like I’m sleeping. Even when it seems like I’m not listening and I don’t care, I’m there to hold the storm back from overtaking you. The chaos will not overcome you.
That is what we, as the Christian community, get to witness to on this campus and in the world. That in the storms, the living Jesus that walks with us is the promise that we will not be overcome. And we get to witness to that even when we’re as freaked out and unsure as the disciples. Perhaps especially then. And then we get to welcome each other and all our brothers and sisters to live like that is true. It’ll get ugly out there, but it won’t overtake us.
And how much easier would life be for us, then? If we were freed from our fear of the storms, what could we do? How could we care for others if we weren’t worried about protecting ourselves? What injustice might we fight against if we knew for sure that Jesus would have a tight grip on us? What risky, beautiful, wonderful things would we do to follow Jesus if we were convinced that the chaos would never overcome us?
Maybe we will never learn to be any more trusting than those first disciples. Or maybe we’ll learn to be so filled with faith that we can walk on water. But either way, Jesus is always in the boat with us as he speaks peace to the waters around us.
And he will keep calling us to trust, to put our whole selves into following him and let him worry about holding us up. For "we are not promised that we will never be distressed or never troubled; but we have been promised that we will never be overcome." And thanks be to God for that. Amen.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 23, 2012 at 12:20 AM||comments (0)|
I’ve got to say, whenever I read this story I always wonder what in the world James and John were thinking. Really, they ask Jesus to do whatever they ask of him? That’s something you may ask a genie or a wizard in some fairy tale or maybe you can pull it off with your best friend, but the Son of God? Are you serious? And then they follow it up with, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Give us the best spots, let us be in charge with you because obviously, you like us best. They’ve been around Jesus for this long and they still dare to make such a stupid request?
Now, from where we’re standing, I think we completely get that this is a bad idea. We get the whole- Jesus is God’s Son thing- so I don’t think any of us here are presumptuous to think that we’re the very best people in the whole world that would deserve such a spot.
And I also think that since we know what Jesus had to go to and what martyrs and those really impressive Christians have had to go through, I doubt any of us are signing up for such a ridiculous assignment. We don’t want the pain and the struggle that we know would come with it.
I mean, we admire people who do the really hard work of following Jesus- those who choose to live in poverty out of love for their brothers and sisters, get arrested or beaten to stand up for a cause, and work for peace in violent neighborhoods. We admire then and they inspire us to do some good things. But I think we’re also glad that THEY are doing those big things so that we don’t have to.
You see, I don’t think we even want to be at Jesus’ right and left hands, because then the work would be too much. For most of us, we don’t want to do the work of being the greatest, we want to get by and be loved. We want Jesus to say well done, good and faithful servant, but only if the work to get there isn’t that exhausting and painful and inconvenient. I think most of us would just assume fly under the radar and be just good enough for an occasional pat on the back by Jesus, but not so good that we get asked to do the really hard stuff.
But it doesn’t work like that, Jesus says. All who follow me or even try to get the same call. Jesus’ words are words for all of us, even if we’re not as arrogant as James and John. They are words for us even if we aren’t determined to be the greatest. They are words that tell us how to live with our brothers and sisters and how we live in the world as witnesses to the kingdom that Jesus preaches about.
And Jesus tells us, Jesus’ kingdom is not about worrying about who is better than who. It’s not about using your power to make others do what you want or having others force you to do things. It’s not about defending yourself from others or worrying about what position you have in life. The kingdom is about giving it all away- like we hear Jesus tell the rich young man last week. And it’s about serving each other- seeing each other person as someone so precious, so beloved, so worthy of respect that it becomes an honor to serve them. To see the face of God in them and find no other way to behave to your brothers and sisters than to joyfully care for them.
In the kingdom of God, the community that Jesus is bringing into the world, serving others is the joyful work of serving- like making dinner for a beloved grandmother on her birthday. The kind that is done purely out of joy and love and devotion. You serve your grandmother not because you have to, but because love compels you. Because you want to honor who she is and who she has been to you. It may be serving, but it doesn’t feel like it.
This is what Jesus says it will be like in the kingdom of God- willing and loving service to each other. Because this was the kingdom that Jesus lived out- one where he stooped to wash our feet, lovingly fed 5,000 because he saw they were hungry, gave up even his brief moments of rest in order to teach and heal, and opened his arms on the cross rather than stop loving us. He lived the kingdom to us- counting it an act of love to serve us even when we were ungrateful, cruel and even a little stupid.
Jesus knows this kingdom and loves it and trusts it so much that we wants us to love it to. So Jesus tells us, “The kingdom I preach about is more beautiful than kingdom of the world. And I promise, it is coming into the very world we live in. So, I am inviting you to live into it now. And to do that, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” If you want to follow me in the kingdom I’m preaching about, this is what you do. Those who would be champions of this kingdom, those who are living into it with their heart and soul, are the ones who serve others willingly and constantly.
But, if you haven’t noticed, our world doesn’t look like that beautiful kingdom yet. So that means living into that kingdom may not always be as joyful as Jesus hopes it will be one day for us. The truth is, when you are focused on this kingdom while others are following the ways of the world, living into that kingdom is going to look like getting walked all over. It’s going to look like losing. It’s going to look like you are needlessly putting yourself through crap. It’s going to stink. But I mean what I said even then, Jesus says. This is still the way of the kingdom. It is still the way of love.
Until the day when our world looks more like the kingdom Jesus preaches about, we live into that kingdom by living by its values. We witness to our deep love of neighbor. And that means that we still have to keep serving even when we don’t feel it’s such a great honor. And sometimes we act like we love them when we can’t make our heart get there. We treat people like a beloved grandmother even when they are ridiculous and rude and difficult. We serve them not because they deserve it, but because Jesus loves them. And, like the sign I saw in my grandma’s apartment the other day said, “God loves you and I’m trying!”
Jesus is honest about the fact that our serving will not just be the feel-good kind. It will not just the happy moments when you serve food in a soup kitchen and people thank you and smile at you and you feel good about it. Serving in this world will also mean doing the work we don’t get thanked for or noticed for and the work you frankly don’t even like. It means cleaning toilets and soothing screaming babies and dealing with whiny people.
Sometimes we serve until we feel like it and sometimes we keep serving despite hating it. Because that is simply what it means to live in the kingdom. Though Jesus will not promise James or John or any of us the highest seats of glory, he offers to serve us as if we were there. Jesus offers to love and honor us as if we had earned the right to sit at his right hand- as if we were as selfless at Mother Teresa or as brave and prophetic as MLK. He chooses to serve us with every ounce of love he possesses.
And we, beloved people, get the honor of acting out this love of Jesus on others until it becomes a part of our very being.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 15, 2012 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
Mark 10: 17-31
There’s plenty in the Bible that we don’t understand. Things that we need to have someone explain to us because it deals with cultural ideas that we don’t understand or metaphors that we can’t quite understand. Like when the Towson students read 2 weeks ago on Tuesday night about putting new wine in old wineskins and no one understood what Jesus was talking about. There is plenty in the Bible that we need someone to explain in order to understand.
But today’s gospel lesson isn’t one of those things. These words of Jesus aren’t hard to figure out. A rich young man has everything that the world says he needs to be happy-possessions, security and wealth. And he’s done everything that the religious leaders have told him to do- he’s a good, moral, upstanding man. And yet he still feels like something is missing is his life. He still can’t rest easy. So he runs up to Jesus, thinking that the good teacher can tell him what he’s missing, what other thing he can do to finally feel fulfilled. To inherit eternal life.
And Jesus tells him to obey the commandments. And if that’s not enough, then he tells him to sell all that he owns and give it to the poor. And then come follow Jesus. Not much confusing about that.
But I’ve heard folks, pastors included, act like these words are too hard to understand and try to explain their way around these words. We try to say, “well, Jesus says this to the rich young man, but he doesn’t say the same thing to us.” Wealth was this particular man’s problem. Well, that may be, but these words don’t sound a whole lot different than what he keeps inviting the disciples to do. To drop whatever they’re doing, leave their work and their families and follow him. He tells folks that no one who gives up following in order to take care of things like burying a family member or saying goodbye to their family is fit for the kingdom. He says over and over again that we need to be all in. in order to follow. And that means willing to give up our work, our families, and our possessions.
So, the truth is that we can all understand what Jesus meant, we just wish we couldn’t. Because we wish he didn’t say it. It’s unreasonable. Jesus asks this man to become poor. Meaning “not having a safety net” poor. Meaning having to receive from others rather than being the one giving things. Meaning no longer being someone in society that people look up to. Jesus asked him to give everything up. Everything. To live in the kingdom.
Because in the kingdom, you jut don’t need any of that stuff. In Jesus’ kingdom, you don’t have to have your own things everyone has enough and takes only what they need out of love for others. Everyone is on equal footing, without power to take advantage of others or use their wealth to lord over others. No one worries about who has more possessions and no one spends time defending what is theirs.
And that’s why Jesus says it’s so hard for those who are rich to enter this kingdom. Because it means that those who have many things will have to take a step down- lose their status and their security and their way of life in order to be a part of this new community of Jesus. And who would want to do that? Risk all they have for the kingdom?
And yet, Jesus looks at this rich man and loves him. Loves him so deeply that he wants him to know the incredible joy of the kingdom. So he tells him the truth he doesn’t want to hear- the kingdom is worth giving up everything.
Jesus is trying to cut through this man’s assumptions that he can follow Jesus simply by staying within the lines. By living a good, moral life. Jesus is telling the young man and us that he isn’t calling us to be good people in the eyes of the world. That is too small a thing. He’s asking us to give up our lives for the sake of following. Give up our security. Give up our status in society. Give up the prestige and position in life that we have earned. Give up our own desire to be comfortable and to do what we think is best.
It’s hard, Jesus says. Too hard to expect anyone to do it, but I love you and I can promise you that life in the kingdom is worth it. The love of God is worth it. It feels like jumping off a cliff, but you fall into the arms of one who will hold you up. And you never know how good those arms are, how strong they are, and how freeing it is to be caught in them, until you jump.
Yeah, yeah, but with Jesus telling us to give things to the poor and looking at us lovingly and all, this all starts to sounds like a guilt trip. Especially to those of us who have many things. Even poor college students with many things. But that’s not the point at all. Jesus looks at us with honest, deep, life-giving love and tells us the truth. You cannot follow me while holding on to your things or your life or your security. Let go and I will surprise you with enough and with a community to hold you up.
Ok, we get that Jesus is honest and loves us, but it still sounds like there’s something fishy in this. We hear a lot about money in the church. But this is not a plea for more money for the church. Jesus flat out tells this man to give every scarp he has to the poor. This isn’t about supporting the temple or the even the community of the disciples. It’s a plea to follow Jesus. To step into the kingdom that Jesus preaches about. That comes into the world through him. The one Jesus gives his life to and the one that he is willing to die for.
The one that we live into whenever we give ourselves away. You know that kingdom. You know what it feels like. Remember those moments on a mission trip or when you’ve given all your lunch away to someone who was hungry or gave all you had to someone who needed it. Your heart felt light. You felt connected to your brothers and sisters. You felt the goodness of God in a new way when you got to see others have enough. This is the kingdom. And we just can’t glimpse it by holding onto what we have. We can only see it and feel it and enjoy it when we give ourselves and our things to away to live into it.
So we know it’s a beautiful kingdom, but still, how do we give up all that we have in the world to jump into the kingdom that Jesus proclaims? How do we leave behind everything the world tells us to work for- security, prestige, enough to be comfortable- to embrace the kingdom? It seems impossible. And it’s not that we’re bad people, but that the things of this world are too comfortable to risk. And wealth- even a small amount of wealth- has a way of distracting us from the kingdom of God and making it seem less real and trustworthy than the world in front of our noses.
It’s hard and even though I want to take the leap, but I can’t. Even though I can glimpse the kingdom that Jesus is talking about, even though I dearly want to live into it, even though it aches to watch the world and myself be so out of step with what God calls us to, I don’t have the courage to open my hands wide enough to give as much as Jesus invites me to. I need a community to help me. I need others to encourage me, to challenge me, to speak Jesus’ words back to me over and over so that together we would have the courage to follow Jesus more closely.
So I pray that these words today may shock us enough to give us space to dream. Dream of that kingdom and talk about that kingdom. To start to see the goodness of the kingdom that Jesus promises so that we can see it as clearly as Jesus hoped the rich young man would. That together- in small groups, in families, in neighborhoods- the kingdom would begin to captivate us and become our focus. And you know what happens when you focus on something- like in a photo? Everything in the background becomes blurry and fades away. Jesus wants us to be so captivated by the kingdom he brings that everything else in the world fades into the background. And giving up our wealth and possessions and security and status- seems natural and possible.
Maybe that begins with a crazy act of giving away- either of our money or our things. More than seems reasonable or rational. Maybe you’re one of those people who needs to jump in with both feet. Or maybe for you it begins with giving away just one thing that you think you can’t live without. And then doing it again and again. Or maybe it means setting aside one month to give something away each day to someone who needs it more and finding a brother or sister in Christ to walk that way with you. To keep you accountable. To encourage you and challenge you and remind you of the awesomeness of the kingdom you’re living into. To keep encouraging each other to let go for the sake of the kingdom you’re living into.
Jesus looks at all of us and loves us enough to tell us the truth. His kingdom is more beautiful than we can imagine. It is more beautiful than our security. More beautiful than our money. More beautiful than our stuff. It is worth giving our lives to. It is worth giving his life for. But we can’t live into it while holding on. So let go, people of God. Let your hands open, let your hearts open and give it away for the sake of learning more and more how to jump into the goodness of Jesus’ kingdom.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 8, 2012 at 1:05 PM||comments (0)|
Genesis 2:18-24 and Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
18 Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Did you read that lesson from Genesis? Really read it? This is funny stuff. Because in the beginning, when God created the world, God noticed that Adam looked lonely. And God didn’t want that. So, God brought all the animals to Adam to help find him a helper in life. Sure, he said it was so that Adam could name them all, but there was something else behind all that in God’s plan. And can you imagine what that looked like?
“Hey Adam- how about this one you called giraffe? Seems like a good match, right? He can help you get stuff out of the trees. He can take you for walks around the garden. And you can tell him all your deepest secrets.” “Um, yeah God. Not so much.”
“Ok,” God continues, “then how about a dolphin? They’re cute. And they’re pretty smart. You can even teach him to talk. And it can go fishing for you.” “Yeah, that’s not really going to work out either, God.”
“It might eat me.”
And as this began to tire Adam out, he says, “Come n, God. I need someone who ‘gets’ me. Who can help me through life. Who can help me take care of this huge garden you made. And can make me understand myself and this awesome creation. Who can help me understand who you are and who I am meant to be. And a giraffe or a hippo just isn’t going to work.”
And so God got the point and made a new one out of Adam. God made woman from man, made a new gender that complemented and completed creation. That added something new and necessary to the world. God said that man was not enough. That womankind was necessary to the creation and also to the life of the man. And when Adam saw her, he said, “Yes, God. This is what I needed. This is one that shares my flesh. This is what I need to live in the world.”
Because there is a deep recognition among humans- we see in each other something that we need to live. Something that we cannot get from the trees or the birds or the hippos. We need another of our flesh and bone to understand us. One that is other and different and yet the same. We understand who we are and can be complete in the eyes of another. Not just a romantic partner. But another one- be it in a friendship, a family relationship or even a mentor. We need someone to understand us and one that we can understand.
And it is that connection of understanding that lets Adam exclaim, “Ah, yes. This is flesh of my flesh.” He does not cry out with joy when he is brought all the abundance of created things. But when he is brought the one thing that is deeply connected to him on a personal level, he sighs with a deep joy. Yes, he says, this one is of me. This one can understand. This one my heart can connect with in a new way. This one I love like my own self.
And we all understand what that means. To have someone who gets us. That cry of recognition happens for us whenever we are understood. Whenever a friend, a teacher, a parent or a partner understands us at our deepest core- who understands even parts of ourselves that we cannot understand. We need those people- who make us more fully ourselves. Who connect us more fully to all of creation. Who make us more fully a part of the life that God gave us. And one who makes us more fully and truly a child of God.
We need these others. And yet, even with them, sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes there is no one who can understand a certain part of us. And sometimes there is still a gulf too wide to cross between God and us.
And into our loneliness, into our confusion about the world and about God, into our deep sadness and lostness that takes over sometimes, God comes. When we do not have the power to see and know God, when seeing God in the eyes of another is not enough, God reminds us that our God has already taken on our flesh so that we might know God.
And the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us of this joyful truth- “in these days, God has spoken to us by a Son.” This Jesus, this one in our flesh, is the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Our God- everything good and perfect and powerful- somehow chose to be human. Chose to take on a body that could be in pain. Took on a stomach that could growl and be empty and emotions that could wreak havoc. And God chose to live among us and other people that drive us nuts. And not kill any of us off with a lighting bolt when we get particularly annoying. God came in the flesh to be in relationship with people that would die, would hurt him and would take advantage of his humanity. And God did all this simply to hang out with us. To be with us in all our humanness and all our mess.
And God did all this simply because we could not understand God in any other way. And rather than just give up and deal with the fact that we couldn’t “get” God, God came as one of us. Stooped down to us. Chose to love us best by walking right next to us. So we would not be alone.
And not only did God take on our flesh, but God even gave all power to this one in the flesh. Hebrews reminds us that God did not put angels in charge of this world, even if this may seem like it would have been a good idea. God didn’t let one above this world be in charge. Instead, God entrusted the world to Jesus and “left nothing outside his control.”
And this is where is gets a little tricky- God put all the world in Jesus’ control, but it doesn’t look like it. So, the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “as it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Yeah, the world doesn’t really look all that perfect yet. It’s getting there, but it’s taking a whole heck of a lot longer than we think it should. But until that time when the world will look like what God has planned, we are assured, “but we do see Jesus.” And that is the heart of our faith. Those 5 words. “But we do see Jesus.” In a world that stinks, we get to see Jesus, the one who walked the way for us, all the way to death. The one who walks with us in our mess. And the one who walks ahead that we might have a guide.
That means that Jesus, in our flesh, has come to go the way ahead of us an invite us to follow. Since he is the one who actually has this life thing figured out. And that doesn’t mean that we should follow Jesus in a perfect, moral life like we hear about in Sunday School and be rather boring and pious all the time. No, Jesus showed us the way to live without fear. With a deep purpose and filled to the brim with joy, even when it’s difficult. Jesus modeled the way to wear our flesh and still have a life so full of meaning that it makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning. A life that is full of enjoying the good gifts of God- good food, good friends, and much laughter. A life that is filled up with a love of people so deep that it breaks your heart and makes you want to run into all the places of pain in the world and bring healing.
We have one who wears our flesh, lives in our bones and walks the way with us to show us the way. And in a world where things aren’t all that perfect, that is good news. In a world where things aren’t looking like they’re in subjection to Jesus- where the world isn’t full of justice, love and beauty like God promises it will be someday- it is a blessing that we walk the way with our God. We see a painful messy world, “but we also see Jesus.”
So, rejoice today that we have not been left alone with the giraffes and the hippos. We have been given ones who share our humanity, who understand parts of who we are. And in the midst of a messy world, our God took on this flesh of ours, too, so that we would see the world, “but we also see Jesus.” And for this moment, that will be enough.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 8, 2012 at 1:05 PM||comments (0)|
Is it lawful to arrest someone for stealing when they were forced to do it to feed their family? Is it lawful for a CEO to get a bonus while a company is laying off workers? Is it lawful not to give up your seat to a pregnant woman on the bus when you are able to do so?
There’s not a simple answer to any of these questions. They’re those kind of questions that you want to answer with, “yes, but. . . “ They’re tricky questions because even though these things may be lawful, that doesn’t mean they’re right to do. So asking whether they’re lawful doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
And this morning we hear the Pharisees ask Jesus another of those questions that you can’t answer with a yes or no answer- “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus knew that this question was only asked to force him to take one side or the other on a question that just wasn’t that simple. It was a question intended to paint him into a corner- either as someone who supported divorce or a person who didn’t respect the law. Either way he would lose and he would never actually get to the heart of the matter. So instead of letting himself be defined by the question, he asks a question back, asking the Pharisees what Moses wrote in the law concerning divorce. They knew the law as well as Jesus, so they tell him, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
Yes, you’re right, Jesus tells them, the law allows for divorce, but that’s not the answer to your question. Because just because it’s lawful doesn’t make it right. Jesus reminds the Jewish leaders that Moses wrote this commandment only because he knew you were going to mess up sometimes. He knew you were sinful and broken people who weren’t that good at making promises. He made those laws to protect women in the midst of those broken promises, but that’s not what God had in mind from the beginning. So yes, it may be lawful for you to divorce, but that doesn’t mean it’s what God wants for you.
You see, just because we have made laws to reign in and contain human sin doesn't mean that we are blameless because we follow the laws. Living by the letter of the law doesn't mean we're living out God's intention for us. That’s something Jesus keeps reminding us throughout Scripture.
When asked about committing adultery, Jesus says it’s not enough to follow the letter of the law. Instead, he declares that anyone who has lust in their heart commits adultery- it's not just the physical act that condemns us. And when talking about murder, Jesus says that it’s not enough to refrain from killing our neighbors. Instead, he says that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister is liable to judgment, not just those who physically take a life. Jesus keeps saying that the letter of the law isn't enough- God wants our hearts changed and has a greater intention for us than just staying within the rules of the law.
And this is what Jesus is saying about divorce, too. It's not enough to play by the rules of Moses in making a divorce legal. God intends for marriage to be a lifelong bond and any time this is broken, it is wrong- something other than what God wants of us. Jesus speaks the truth in saying that in a divorce, a man harms his wife and a woman harms her husband. This broken relationship is not right for anyone involved.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that the law is not important. What is important is what God intended for marriage, that the “two shall become one flesh.” In marriage, God does a new thing. God joins a couple together so that they become one flesh together. God’s intention is that marriage will be a life-giving bond, a strengthening of each partner, a joy and a gift. It is meant to be a life-long connection that changes who we are and allows us to face the world in a new way. And so Jesus says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
So is it lawful to break this apart? Is it lawful to rip apart this one flesh? Jesus tells them, sure, you can find a law to justify you, but that doesn’t mean that it is right. A divorce is a painful ripping apart of the flesh that God joined together. It is a wound that cannot be made right. And that is true even when divorce becomes the right decision in a horrible situation. When the bonds of marriage have already been shattered by unfaithfulness, addictions, abuse, or any host of sinful things, we may need to choose divorce for the sake of our life and health, but that doesn’t make the wound any less. The tearing apart of what God has joined happens by those sinful things that make marriage unlivable, not just by the singing of a divorce decree. And whenever that bond is ripped apart, it is not what God wants for us.
So what Jesus is telling the Pharisees is that calling it lawful or unlawful doesn’t make any difference. Too often we worry about if something is lawful only when we know in our heart we shouldn’t be doing it. We ask questions about the law when we’re trying to legitimize our sin or talk ourselves into believing that what we did was right. Or we worry about the laws only when we’re trying to shame someone else to make ourselves feel better.
But Jesus cuts through all that and tells the truth about our sin and brokenness. He doesn’t let us hide ourselves in the law and say that our sin really isn’t all that bad. Instead, he tells the truth about our brokenness. He calls us out on all those ways we hurt each other and break the bonds of love in our communities. He tells the truth about our greed and our anger, about our violence and hatred toward others. He tells us that these things are never God’s will for us. And he also tells the truth about the brokenness of divorce. He says in the most uncertain terms- this is not what I want for you. This is not what I want for this world. Nothing can make this right. And as someone who has walked through that pain myself, I want my God to speak what I know is true. Nothing can make that brokenness ok.
But Jesus does not speak the truth in order to shame us. He doesn’t speak the truth in order to disgrace us when we are already in pain. And he never speaks the truth about our failings so that we will wallow in them and be overcome by them. Jesus tells us the truth, which we know already in our hearts, so that we can stop hiding our brokenness and stop telling ourselves it’s not that bad. So that we will stop trying to justify ourselves and stop making up laws to justify the ways we hurt our brothers and sisters. Jesus tells us the truth so that he can remind us of God’s intention for us and call us back to ways of love and justice.
But he also speaks the truth about our brokenness because he is the one who is willing to stand with us in that mess. He is the one who took on our pain so that we wouldn’t bear it alone. Jesus is the one who became human so that we would have someone to walk with us in our brokenness and bear all the pain that we are not strong enough to carry. This brokenness is not right for you, he says, but I am with you through it all.
Divorce is not right for us, just like all the pain and suffering we cause each other is not right. Just like the scars on Jesus’ own hands are not right. They are the scars of the brokenness of this world. Jesus knows what it is like to have scars that will not go away. He is one, like us, who knows what it is like to be wounded by the brokenness of this world. He is one who knows the suffering in the lives of all those who are divorced. And he is the one who speaks to them, while wiping away both our tears and his own, “This is not what I wanted for you.”
This is the truth that Jesus speaks, but this is not the only truth there is. Jesus tells us the truth about our brokenness, but he also tells the truth about our God who is more powerful than that brokenness. Because Jesus is not only the one who walks with us in our pain, but he is also the one who walked right out of the tomb. Jesus testifies to the truth of that great morning when God overcame the brokenness of death and says that God will keep doing it again and again.
And THIS is the greatest truth of our lives- that pain and brokenness are not all there is. That God can transform our wounds. That God can work through the worst pain there is in order to bring life. And that God will not stop binding up our brokenness until our world is finally whole.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 17, 2012 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
Words can be destructive. Anyone who’s ever been kept up at night crushed by what someone said about them knows that. Anyone who has refused to go back to a group because of how they were verbally attacked knows that. And anyone who avoids the church because they hear its leaders speak more about hatred and judgment than about God’s forgiveness and love knows that. Words can destroy.
And as James so eloquently puts it, “The tongue stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. No one can tame the tongue-it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Our tongues have the power to set the world on fire. And not in the good “on fire for Jesus” kind of way. But in a way that consumes everything in its path.
Words can literally deform children when they are used to tell them that they are not good enough, that they are not loved, that they are not wanted. Words have the power to change who they are and to prevent them from growing into the people that God created them to be.
And just down the street in Perry Hall, the rejection and bullying by classmates played a part in a young man bringing a gun to school to attack others. These cruel words created a wound that may never heal. When we tell them that they are worthless, that it would be better if they hadn’t been born, that they don’t count for anything, these words are, as James says, full of poison, for they steal the life of another.
And that’s not just what James says. Jesus said the same thing to his disciples on the mountain. He told them they couldn’t keep the commandment not to murder simply by refraining from killing their brother or sisters. He tells them that it is their job to protect the life of one another. So to curse another- to call them a fool and attack their humanity, is as much an offense against God as is murder.
And James spells out why- because it is God who created all of us. And so, to attack God’s creation is attack the God who created it. That is what James calls us back to with those words that have been ringing in my ears all week- “With our tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”
We are all created in love by the same God and proclaimed good, James says. Each person bears the mark of God on their very being. So how can you curse a brother or sister any more than you can curse the earth that God made? Any more than you can curse the sky or the trees? How can you curse them without cursing the God who created them?
It’s simply unnatural. For you are fig trees. Ok, that may seem like a bit of a tangent to us, but James was one to string together every metaphor he could think of to help his people understand the power of their words. And these folks lived around a lot of trees. So he tells them the astounding fact that fig trees can’t produce olives. It would be unnatural. It would mean that the tree wasn’t bringing forth what was inside it.
And they happen to be fig trees. They were made in the image of God to bring life and health and healing- just like God. So when they don’t to that- when they don’t bear the fruit they were created to bear- it’s like a fig tree bearing olives. And if you are someone who hates olives as much as I do, that is a rather disgusting thought.
To bring forth cruelty and hatred in our speech, to destroy others with our words, is simply unnatural as Christians. It is not what we were created to do and it betrays the truth of who we are- people created in God’s image.
So, although it may be cool, it may be witty, it may make you feel better to make demeaning comments about another, this out not to be so, James says. Even if it endears you to friends. Even if it’s said jokingly. Even if the other person can’t hear it. Even if it helps you to win elections, cursing others simply ought not to be so. Ever. For that means denying who you were created to be. And this is simply not what you or your community should look like.
Because these are not just words for us as individuals. Our everyday choices in the world matter deeply as we care for the lives of our brothers and sisters. And yet, these are also words to the Christian community to help us in our life together. To help us embody a different reality than the rest of the world. To help us live out and show forth God’s kingdom in our life together.
When we gather, James says, not only do we welcome all people- the poor and rich, the new and the familiar, the likeable and unlikeable. Not only do we welcome them as equally loved and equally treasured like we heard James tell us last week. But we also speak differently to each other and to all that come into our midst. Different than the rest of the world says is ok.
As ones who follow Christ, we live together differently. In ways that honor the lives of our brothers and sisters who we are entrusted with. In ways that reflect Christ to the world. It may seem like a small thing, but choosing to bring life and not destruction through our words is powerful. It honors the goodness of God in others. It allows Jesus to be visible in our life together. So that others may come and see and know Jesus through us. Honoring all others in our speech allows us to embody love and invite others in to belong to this love we have known in Jesus.
And that is why we curb our tongue. Not so we won’t get ourselves into trouble. Not because it’s polite. Not so others will think well of us. But fundamentally because we are entrusted with the lives of our brothers and sisters. With all those made in the image of God. And with the life of the community that bears the name of Christ.
Now, this does not mean that we need to sugar-coat everything. We don’t need to go around speaking in a sweet, little voice and say that everything is great and nice and say, “God bless you” every 3 seconds. We can continue to be real human beings. People are still going to drive us nuts and sometimes even disgust us by their choices. There are things that we are still going to disagree about- even within the Christian community. And there are certainly still things in this world that we need to get angry about in order to bring about change. Jesus did all that and we can at LEAST be as human as Jesus!
These words from James aren’t meant to make us into some automated Christian robots. They simply put boundaries on our speech that protect the lives of our brothers and sisters. And remind us that we are fig trees at heart- meant to bring forth fruit that brings life to the world.
So we can correct each other and we can speak harsh truth to each other in genuine love. We can disagree with and be frustrated with each other. We can condemn the evil actions of our brothers and sisters and pray for them. And in extreme cases, we can even stop being in relationship with them. But we do not have the right to curse the life and the very humanity of another. We are not permitted to question their worthiness of love and respect. Ever. For any reason. For they are God’s good creation. And so are we. And thanks be to God for that.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 10, 2012 at 5:30 PM||comments (0)|
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
Haven’t you wanted to say something like that to other Christians some time? Maybe it’s not them showing favoritism that drives you nuts, but maybe it’s their hatred, their indifference, or their arrogance. But haven’t’ you, at times, wanted to give others a little “what in the world are you thinking putting on a Jesus t-shirt on and then acting like that? How can you really believe in Jesus and do what you’re doing?
Well, James had some of that same righteous indignation with some of the folks in his community. Because he’s seen how they treat the rich and how they treat the poor. And it stinks. They give the rich the best seats and the tell those who are poor to stand in the corner. They are thrilled to have the important people with them but it’s pretty obvious that they could care less about those that don’t have money. Their actions are so wrong, so opposed to what Jesus preached that frankly, these folk need to consider if they really believe this Jesus they say they follow.
We can obviously tell that this isn’t right. But in case we think we’re doing any better, think of what it would be like if the president of Towson came to worship. We’d probably be honored and proud and would go out of our way to make her feel welcome. We’d get her a good chair and help her understand what we were doing in worship.
And then think of what it would be like if someone came who obviously smelled different because of a life lived without a home. Sure, we’d probably also get them a chair and help them understand what we do in this place, but many of us have to admit that we would also talk nervously to each other and assume they just came for a handout and would try to get them out the door quickly after worship.
So, what is up with acting like that, James says, to his community and to us. “Are you sure you really believe in this Jesus?” He said to love your neighbor- all your neighbors- as yourselves. He said blessed are the poor. He promised that in his kingdom, everyone gets invited in with joy to the banquet he sets. But when you gather, you love on the rich and try not to look at those who are poor. Just like the rest of the world. Shouldn’t your community look a little different? Maybe a little more like the kingdom Jesus talked about? If it doesn’t, how real is this faith you claim to have?
It’s painful, but it’s true. James is just speaking the hard truth that we all know in our bones, the one we like to condemn others with but don’t like to admit to ourselves. The truth that says that if you really believe in Jesus, if you really believe in the kingdom he preached about and in his victory over death, then your life looks like you do. Because belief is not a bunch of words, it is a living reality.
And that’s because believing in Jesus is not like believing that the world is round. It’s not believing that Jesus was a real person and really God’s son. It’s not believing facts. Believing in Jesus means knowing in your heart that life wins and love wins simply because God wills it. It means trusting in God’s kingdom- where the poor are filled, the weak are lifted up and there is justice for all who are oppressed. It means being captivated and drawn to this one who is God in the flesh. Believing in Jesus is turning your face, your self, your soul and your life toward this one that calls us. And when you do that, it will be pretty obvious in your life. Because when you have given your life to something, it shows.
It shows whether that something is training for the Olympics, working to save the environment, being in a relationship or being a good parent. Whatever we believe in, whatever we give our lives to, changes how we live.
So if you trust that the kingdom of peace and forgiveness and life beyond death that Jesus preaches, is really true and is really coming among us, then you have to live differently. Because the truth of that kingdom changes how you see the world. And it changes what is possible for you.
When you trust this kingdom that Jesus preaches, then taking revenge on others is not an option. Using others for your own gain is not an option. And, James says, ignoring the poor and favoring the rich is not an option, either. Because it is the opposite of what life is like in the kingdom. And by living that way, you betray the truth that you have given your life to.
Now, that’s not saying that if you trust in Jesus and his kingdom , suddenly you will act perfectly in line with what God wants of you. You’re still going to mess up. And sometimes pretty horribly. We’re still going to forget how to follow Jesus at times or get lazy or be too scared to do what we know is right. And we’ll still doubt and sometimes want to give up on this faith thing because it doesn’t seem to do any good. And yet, when you have faith in this Jesus, it means that your heart and your mind and your spirit are turned in a different direction. And that means that your choices about how to live will follow. And others will see that you follow a different lord than the world calls you to.
And that is what James is talking about. That’s why he calls out his community on their acts of favoritism and that’s why he says those famous words, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” If your faith makes no difference in how you live, he says, it isn’t a living faith. It is empty words. It’s not doing its job.
And that’s not said to freak us out or to threaten us. It’s just speaking the truth- the good news of God coming into our human mess to love us is meant to change us. Open up a whole new freedom for us. Set us free to love with reckless abandon simply because we are loved. Give us a direction and a purpose that gives our life meaning. And if our trust in the love of Jesus isn’t doing any of that, then our faith is dead.
This doesn’t mean that we need to earn God’s love by doing a bunch of good stuff. It doesn’t mean that whenever we mess up, God is waiting to slap us on the wrist and send us to hell. But thee words simply tell the truth- that whatever we put our trust in and give our lives to will show in how we live.
And that means in the way we treat people. The reality of God is that every single person is beloved. Hear that- beloved!! Treasured. Celebrated. For all that is possible in them and despite all the messes they will get into. And that means us and everyone else. We are absolutely beloved. Deserving of the utmost respect and welcome and celebration. The good news is that this means us. The bad news is that it means everyone else, too.
And that means that everyone who comes into our community, everyone that we encounter as a community while eating lunch or serving others or walking on the sidewalk, is deeply beloved. They are loved not in some cheesy after-school special sort of way, but treasured by the Creator of the universe. And they are worthy of every ounce of welcome and friendship we can give. Simply because they are made in love by the same God who made us. They are someone that Jesus would give his own life to save and honor.
And that means that every person who comes into our midst is cause for celebration. They are deserving of a joyful welcome into the fullness of our community- into our meals, into our prayers, into our inside jokes, and into all of our life together. Not because we are such nice, friendly people. But simply because we see the world differently as followers of Jesus. We see people with the eyes of God, or at least we try to. We welcome others and love them recklessly simply because God does.
And that means the person who wanders into our gathering from the street is to be welcomed with as much joy as the new student. The one who does not believe treasured as much as the one who grew up in a Lutheran congregation. The one who suffers from mental illness celebrated as much as the popular kid on campus. Simply because that is what it will be like in God’s kingdom. And that is the kingdom that we trust as our reality. That is the kingdom we live into. That is the kingdom we give our life to. And that is the kingdom that changes us.
And thanks be to God for that.