|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 20, 2017 at 1:25 AM|
Years ago, a circuit-rider would bring preaching and communion to congregations whenever they were in the area of a church without a pastor. And when two Lutheran pastors happen to be passing through the only Lutheran congregation in Robeson county and they happen to be without a pastor, we stop in to preach, preside and bring along students to help lead worship, too. It was a joy to be among God's people at worship this morning and to hear Pastor Ray preach about this Jesus who meets us and loves us when we are the outcast and who invites us to follow in his footsteps. To bring his love and his forgiveness to those who find themselves on the margins of life. To bring the living water of God's welcome and God's presence to those who thirst for it.
And today we found life-giving welcome in the people of St. Mark's, who hosted a delicious potluck lunch for us after worship, the kind with plates full of deviled eggs and a whole table full of desserts. And as full as the table was, the community was even better- like being among family we had not met before. By the end of lunch, one of our students was carrying a baby who had fallen asleep on her while she was playing with him, we had shared stories with all the members sitting with us, and had also met a student and a recent grad from UNC Pembroke who had helped found the Lutheran Episcopal Campus Ministry there. They formed by themselves first and then seeking out Lutheran and Episcopal pastors to support them. In the midst of 7 Baptist campus ministries, ELM has a distinctly different way of living out the faith. It was a way that one of the students was eager to experience after growing up in a church where they only talked about what you were doing wrong. To hear about a Jesus that speaks love first was living water to her.
After we were fed, we got to met Mac Legerton, a UCC pastor who founded and runs the Community Action Center. He wil be our guide for the week, helping us to learn more about the realities of rural poverty, connecting us with the Lumbee community and giving us opportunities to serve in ways that are helpful to the community's rebuilding.
Mac took us on a driving tour of some of the flood affected areas. The flood was caused by 18 inches of rain in 24 hours in October 2016, but made worse by a dyke installed originally to prevent flooding which didn't allow the waters to recede naturally back into the Lumber River. Thankfully, only 4 people were killed in the flooding- those being motorists who got stuck. Mac says they brought in rescue boats very quickly to rescue stranded folks. They were without water for 2 weeks, as the flooding took out the main water plant. Even though most lives were spared, rebuildng will take a long while.
4 months after the flooding, sand from the bottom on the river still covers many yards and there was still debrs and ruined cars (not too many, but some). One of the roads we were on had fallen apart in places and stil hasn't been rerouted, just leaving dead ends. Many of the homes were in the most economically disadvantaged communities, so restoring the area was FEMA will buy out some of the destroyed homes, so some are not attempting to rebuild right now, but others are eager to leave the motels they are living in and get back home. We will learn our role in the rebuilding tomorrow.
Later Mac gathered back at our home for the week (and brought cots and air mattresses with him, yay Mac!!) to share stories about his work of poverty reduction and sustainability and to tell us about all sorts of possibilities for our time together (which included enough to last us for 3 weeks!), so we are eager to hear what we'll be doing each day.
Some of our students led us in devotions tonight, reminding us that although God can speak in powerful ways and can speak through destructive things, often we hear God best in the sheer silence. And they reminded us to listen to the silence after the flooding to hear what God is doing now to re-establish places to live and to connect with others (like us) who have come to learn and serve.
We have been filled up today- by the living water of hospitality at St. Mark's, by the faith, passion and prayer shared by Mac, by anticipation of all the week will hold, and by the grief of what this community has lost. And by the laughter- the oh so much laughter- shared by these students.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 19, 2017 at 1:10 AM|
We left this morning from Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Petersburg Virginia, where Pastor Paul Christian let us stay for the night. Paul was an intern at St. Paul's in Lutherville, just a few miles from Towson, back in 2009-2010 and now our paths crossed again. On the floor of the church right before the entrance to the sanctuary was an engraved stone reminding us, "nor shout, nor rush, but hush- God is here." Good reminders of the days ahead. Don't hurry too much or speak too much so that we fail to notice God in our midst and through the brothers and sisters we meet.
The rain dampened a stop to see Vollis Simpson's whirligigs in Wilson, NC. Mr. Simpson was a folk artist, making joyful, whimsical twirling scultures out of metal. People who dedicate part of their lives to adding beauty that brings joy to others are amazing.
We arrived in Pembroke, NC after lunch to our upgraded accommodations at First United Methodist Church (since the educational center where we were going to stay still has flood damage.) This means we have a great kitchen and carpeted floors! But not only that, Pastor Matheue Locklear greeted us and told us about his congregation and his life as a pastor. He is originally from the area and is a member of the Lumbee tribe, the largest Native American group in this part of North Carolina. Since Methodist pastors move often and he has pastored both primarily Native congregations as well as non-Native congregations, we asked what the differences were between them. He said it had a lot to do with a shared history and shared stories as well as the relationships between people- here he knows people by face or at least what family they are from. And that lends a different depth to community. And there is also a rootedness to the people in a tribe- they are always connected to this place and either never leave, or will almost alwas return here at some point. Which sounds like a pretty beautiful thing to a campus pastor whose congregation is always moving away every year!
We are only a few blocks away from the University of North Carolina Pembroke- originally founded in 1887 as a normal school for Native Americans. The first Anglo student wasn't admitted until 1949 and it has since then evolved to become a campus of UNC. Today UNC Pemboke was hosting a Pow-wow. We arrived ready to pay our entrance fee, but the the Office of Community and Civic Engagement had a table near the enrance and noticed us. They asked to pay the entrance fee for all 19 of us to thank us for serving for the week in their county doing flood relief work. What an amazing blessing!
The pow-wow was amazing, although we are looking forward to talking to someone who can explain more about it to us in the coming days. The major part of the pow-wow is a ceremonial dance competition, with people from 4 year olds through grandmothers dancing in different categories- celebration, traditional, jingle, and fancy- while groups of men played drums and sang for each dance. Different people were called up to judge each dance, many of them who would also be competing in other dances later. They heard their name called and willingly served- the community at the pow-wow had an undersatnding of how it was called to function and each felt empowered to do their part. That's an awsome vision for Christian community.
After some tremendous macaroni and cheese, we were eager to go to the Fire Circle to celebrate the equinox. But a deluge did away with those possibilities. So, onto plan B at Mr. P's SkateWorld!! Roller skating for the night (where parents get in free - and they counted the pastors as parents- and there are discounts for church groups!) with the money we saved on the pow-wow! There was frustration, but far more laughter. And there was a lot of falling but even more holding each other up and pulling each other up from the ground. May our week continue like that!
Tomorrow we head to St. Mark's Lutheran in Lumberton where the campus pastors will be helping lead worship for a congregation who is without a pastor and we'll your some of the areas of Lumberton affected by the flooding. And we'll meet Mac Legerton, our host for the week.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 11, 2016 at 11:30 AM|
Sermon on Luke 17:11-19
Ok, so I never much like this story of the 10 lepers who were healed and the one who returnd to Jesus to say thank you. Not because it's a bad story, but because I think it’s easy and too moralistic to really struggle with. And I like Jesus stories that make you struggle. this is one where you ust nod your head. “Jesus wants you to say thank you” seems too simplistic a message, even though it’s something I tell my daughter most nights when she complains about saying grace before dinner. This message is something we already know, even though we don’t do it. And frankly, Jesus sounds a little like a mother pulling a guilt-trip- “what, I healed 10 and only one can be bothered to come back and say “thank you?” The story is fine but it doesn’t really inspire. Guilt never does.
And I struggle with the story because every single leper was healed. All 10 of them. They do exactly what Jesus tells them too. They run right to the priest when Jesus tells them too. And frankly, this is an act of faith. Can you imagine living with a disease that cut you off from your entire community? Your whole life is gone. And the only way to escape this reality is to suddenly be healed and then get the approval of the priest that you are actually clean.
So, when Jesus tells these folks that they are healed, they have to go walking off to the priest without any assurance that healing will come. They have hope, but no proof. And all 10 of them go and do exactly what Jesus tells them. And that’s more faith than I always have. And in the midst of this faithful walking, their skin changes. Their fingers and toes are restored. They are healed. They are restored to their families, their work, their lives. I can’t imagine there was a single man with leprosy that wasn’t thrilled. Their restoration was so important they couldn’t wait to have it proved true. So they kept on running to the priest.
But one stops. He looks at his hands and feet restored and he starts shouting. Starts yelling, “Thank you Jesus!” Starts dancing with those restored feet and thanking God with a voice loud enough for the whole town to hear. And he let everyone know that God is up to some stuff in him. Instead of yelling “unclean, unclean” as lepers were supposed to go around saying so no one would accidentally touch him, he yelled, “God has healed me!” so loud that people came to stare.
And when he gets to Jesus, he falls down on the ground and bows- the way you would honor someone far above you in power. This Samaritan- this outcast even among the outcast lepers- bows to Jesus as the one who has the power to bring healing and restore life. He notices God’s power in Jesus can’t stay away from this one who changes the future.
And Jesus says, “This one, this Samaritan, this man with leprosy- this man who you had written off as not worth anything- this is the man who saw the power of God at work in me. He can see the truth of who I am and what I came to this world to do. This man recognizes and praises and stays close to me. Oh, how I wish all my people would do this!” Because “Love that springs from gratitude is the essence of faith.”
And then he tells this 10th man- “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Go back to your life a changed man and live like that for the rest of your life.
But those words, “your faith has made you well” or “your faith has saved you” always stick with me. Because Jesus says that a lot. To the woman anointing his feet, the woman with a hemorrhage, and the blind beggar. And I always think that leads us down a slippery slope- that only those who have enough faith in Jesus get healed. And that’s not my experience.
And even more than that- I don’t think the leprosy just came back for the other 9 because they didn’t say thank you. Just because they didn’t have the same faith as the 10th man. So what does Jesus mean? How does this faith save this 10th man? How does it make him any more whole than the other 9 who were healed?
Well, I don’t think that this saving means what we often assume- that he got into heaven because he noticed Jesus. I assume he did, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about. I don’t think Jesus healed the other 9 to test them and then tell them they weren’t getting into heaven because they didn’t say thank you.
The one who returned to Jesus saw that this wasn’t just an awesome miracle, but the beginning of a new life in Jesus. He noticed the miracle for what it was- the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. He saw with kingdom eyes. He had his eyes turned to what God was doing in the world.
He was saved- or made whole- by being welcomed into a life lived in the kingdom of God. From that day forward, this Samaritan man lived his whole life enveloped in the reality that God is in charge.
He lived his life knowing that God works good in the most desperate circumstances. He knows that God chooses him in love even when no one else would. He lives his life looking into the world and seeing God’s good intention for it. And knows that God can and will work for the life of the world. Even when it seems impossible. All 10 got the miracle of healing , only one got the life spent with Jesus, the thing that made him whole
Now, I visited the Religious Fundamentalism class at Towson this week to answer questions and someone asked why God doesn’t show up the same way God did before and speak so clearly anymore. I said that I think it’s really a matter of us not looking into the world with the same eyes. Of us looking into the world like the 9 lepers instead of the 10th. Of seeing only the miracle and missing the one who brings it. We tend to explain away miracles using science rather than letting science point us to the mystery and beauty that is God at work.
And one of the practices of the Christian community- the stuff we’ve been talking about on Tuesday nights- is to teach us to look into the world with kingdom eyes. To expect God to be at work. To remind each other of such work. To celebrate it and run out to tell about it. To come back to Jesus in those moments with thanksgiving and love. To let those moments of return and praise change us. Save us. Make us whole.
Seeing with kingdom eyes means seeing God at work within the small coincidences and miraculous moments in life. And seeing in those moments a power so far beyond ourselves- a power so good and gracious and beautiful that it could only be named God, . Of relationships healed. Of peace coming in the midst of painful anxiety. Of being put in the right place at the right time to be able to do God’s healing work. Of recognizing the sacred when everyone around us only saw ordinary life.
God will continue to heal and fight for life- that’s God’s nature. But we have the gift of being like the 10th leper- of recognizing God at work. Of sharing it. Of celebrating it. Of living our lives out of the knowledge that God is at work in this world and that we get to get up and go be a part of that work, too.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 4, 2016 at 12:20 AM|
“Increase our faith!” I don’t know if we usually use these words, but I bet that many of us have prayed for God to make us strong enough for something that seems way more than we’re capable of. Increase our faith, God, we ask, even if we’re not sure we fully believe God will show up, because we know how strong we are on our own and it’s not going to be enough.
And the disciples today have just heard Jesus tell them, “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” If we say the wrong thing or act out of step with Jesus’ leading and it causes another Christian to sin, then woe to us. We’re supposed to guard the faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ- especially those new or weak in the faith- and do everything in our power to encourage them in the good ways. And shame on us if we let our own conduct drag another person down. We’re supposed to be good all the time!
And then Jesus says that when our a fellow follower of Jesus acts out of line with God’s calling- you know, by being greedy or unjust or by hating their enemies- then we need to call them on it. We need to do that even when we are not perfect ourselves. We correct them with a whole, whole lot of humility and we don’t’ rejoice in it, but we do need to risk speaking up for the sake of our neighbors connection to Jesus. Which seems so utterly impossible much of the time.
And then, when our brothers and sisters change their ways and ask forgiveness, we need to forgive them, no questions asked. And we need to keep forgiving them if they mess up 7 times a day. Every day!
These are really high expectations for us and we’re probably already looking for the loopholes. So it makes sense that the disciples are begging for more faith! We don’t think we’re up to the task much of the time and they didn’t either.
In the Greek, those words, “increase our faith” are more accurately, “Add faith to us!” You know, “Could you just give us an injection to make us strong enough to trust you, Jesus? Give us the confidence to just do the ridiculous stuff you ask us to without caring what other people say about us. Add faith to us!”
Because I don’t know about you, but I rarely think that I have enough faith or enough trust in God to do ALL the crazy things that Jesus asks. Or even half of them. I would love to be one of those people who is always sure of themselves and confident in where God is calling me and then bold enough to actually do it.
So it would be great if Jesus was a kind and gentle God in answering this request. Yes, of course. It’s totally my fault. I forgot to give you your faith injection. But that’s not how it worked, even for the disciples. And that’s probably a good thing. Because if Jesus worked like that, we’d have a reason to whine and complain that we missed out on our dose of faith and take that as an excuse to do nothing.
But Jesus says, “Nope. You don’t get any more. Even the tiny bit of faith you already have is more powerful than you can imagine. I can use your tiny faith to uproot trees and plant them in the sea. OK- so that’s a pretty weird statement and I don’t think that Jesus really had plans for an underwater forest. But Jesus is trying to say that he can work in and through us in we can’t imagine or predict or explain. If we step out on faith, He can make us more powerful than we thought, more brave than we know ourselves to be and he can even bring healing through us. We don’t need MORE faith, we just need to use what we have.
Jesus is telling us that we don’t get to wait around until we FEEL like doing what Jesus calls us to. We don’t get to wait around until we FEEL like we’re good enough or strong enough. Sometimes we hold onto skepticism and worry so tightly that we can’t even imagine jumping in with 2 feet to this thing called faith. And that holds us back from God working through us to do awesome stuff. Like god did through Mother Teresa.
So- about 10 years ago, the Catholic Church published some new letters of Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta.) that she wrote to some priests who served as her spiritual guides. And they showed that she struggled with her faith ever since she began her work in India. She couldn’t feel God’s presence with her and struggled to have the faith to pray. She couldn’t feel the comfort of faith or the love of God like she hoped. Her letters showed her crying out with the disciples, “increase my faith!”
But even though she felt her faith was weak, she was still convinced that God needed her to continue her work of mercy. So she cared for the dying, bandaged those with leprosy, took the lowest place, and welcomed those who came to her looking for the light of Jesus and the hope to go on. Her faith may not have been as strong as she hoped, but it was strong enough to hold her up and keep her doing God’s work. And God worked through that simple, faithful work to uproot mulberry trees right and left- to change heart and minds and bring them closer to the God she followed. This is what even a weak faith is capable of when we start to use it.
So how do WE make use of the little faith we have, especially on days when it’s hanging on by a thread? I don’t think it’s rocket science. We do what Mother Teresa did- we just do the stuff Jesus teaches us to do. Like putting our safety and our reputation on the line for the sake of bringing the healing and hope Jesus promises. And giving and giving to our neighbors in need. And trusting that the words of Jesus are our guide in life, even if it cramps our style.
Because this evening Jesus is kind of taking us by the collar and reminding us, “You have enough faith. Trust me. We got this. Do the stuff I call you to and trust that I’m walking with you every step of the way. Because in everything scary that I ask you to do, I will walk beside you.”
And when we do all this, Jesus tells us, we don’t get gold stars. We don’t get a thank you for doing all God asks of us. We don’t get loved more. Which seems unfair. But it’s only because God’s love for us will never, never depend on how good we are at doing what Jesus did. And there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful that we’re not getting a grade in this following Jesus thing. God’s love is just one of those things that we get no matter what. God’s love keeps picking us up and calling us back to start again.
But the thing about using this faith of ours is that sometimes God will work through our acts of faith- even the small ones- to uproot mulberry trees and plant them in the sea. And man- what a glorious things to get to watch! To watch the power of God work through our hands that we know aren’t that strong. To watch the work we do bring life, and health and justice. For our care or our welcome of someone help them understand that they are adored by the Creator of the world. That is the reward of living by faith- to watch God’s power work through us.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 29, 2016 at 8:00 PM|
In life and in voting, it's not about us!
Especially in the realm of politics, I am too often struck when Christian folk- my people, my brothers and sisters- talk about voting in terms of their own self-interest. Or out of their own hatred of another. Or out of a desire to see "their people" win- which always refers to a political party. And I wonder when that became who we are. We are people who follow Jesus- Jesus who purposely DIDN'T look out for himself. Who saw to the needs of his brothers and sisters, especially those who were the farthest away from the privileges in life. And he lived his life with them, healing them, welcoming them and chastizing those who kept them marginalized. This is our story. This is how God chose to dwell among us. In the 30-some years our God dwelt in flesh on the earth, this is what our God did. And if we hope to know the life and love that this God-in-the-flesh Jesus had for us, then there's no better way than to do the stuff he did. To follow his life.
And that starts by living our lives with those who have been pushed to the margins of society. Those that are told that they are lesser than others. And it means speaking up to those who try to keep things just as they are. Or speaking up when folks are making things worse for our brothers and sisters who live without access to some of the basic goods of life- like health, protection, welcome and enough to eat. This is the Jesus life. It's hard to do. Many of us- including myself- don't do it well.
But in the United States, many of us also get this thing called a vote. And we get a chance to use that treasure to serve our neighbor, the same way we use our money and our time and our privileges. We get to steward that vote well- to use it to make the kingdom of this world more like the kingdom Jesus proclaims. Our vote is a treasure to be used for the sake of our brothers and sisters. Not ourselves. We don't vote for what makes OUR lives better, we don't vote out of hatred, and we don't refrain from voting if there isn't someone perfect to vote for. Our call is to vote for what serves our brothers and sisters who are in the greatest need. That is always our call. With our money, with our vote, with our lives. To follow Jesus by loving the people he chose to spend his life with. So come November, use your vote well for the sake of the life of your brothers and sisters.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 26, 2016 at 10:25 AM|
Abraham said, “Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.”
That feels so very familiar these days. A chasm between peoples. Between those that don’t agree politically. Between those that don’t agree about social issues. That divide is so stark that we can’t even talk to each other civilly sometimes. We decide who to align ourselves with and stay on that side defending ourselves. Between us a great chasm has been fixed.
And this evening, in our reading, we are reminded about the chasm between those who have too much and those who have too little of the necessities of life. A chasm so great that it’s like the two are living in different worlds. A chasm so great that we don’t even know how folks on the other side of it really live. A chasm so wide that it’s really easy to think the worst of those on the other side, to assume that they are strangers from us.
And because that chasm is so fixed- and has been for 2,000 years- is why a story told 2,000 years ago could have been told today. About a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger at the rich man’s table.”
Between them a great chasm has been fixed.
Well, chasm may have been a stretch, thought the rich man. It was more a helpful gate, one that the rich man could lock at night to stay safe. The truth is, the rich man worked hard for his home and wanted to enjoy life a bit. And there was this guy who used to panhandle out in front of his house every day. Just some guy who wanted what the rich man had. He gave away some money to a charity or two and had no intention of giving his money away to someone who just lay around all day. Between the rich man and Lazarus, as much as he may not have wanted to admit it, “a great chasm had been fixed.”
But the chasm has been there so long and it’s so normal and accepted by his friends that the rich man cannot see it anymore. He has blocked out all the needs of the world that make him uncomfortable. But in death, this vision gets a little clearer. Suddenly that divide between him and Lazarus is not that easy to avoid. Because now the rich man is suffering in Hades while Lazarus in able to rest and have his needs met. And it’s amazing how clear the situation gets when we’re the ones suffering.
And Jesus was telling this story to people who were suffering- needing the good things in life. So they probably cheered right along with us when Lazarus finally gets what he needs and is finally released from his suffering. Because they saw that this would be their place some day. Some day their suffering would be over, too, and the tables would be turned and the rich folk of the world who ignored them would get what they deserved.
And it’s a lovely, moralistic story- but it seems to betray the love that we have known in Jesus. The love of God that somehow loves us even when we are greedy and uncaring. But I think it speaks to the truth that even though Jesus loves us when we’re acting like a jerk to those in need, he’s not cheering us on. Just because Jesus still loves us when we’re hurting other children he loves doesn’t mean he doesn’t want us to change our ways. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t demand that we change. And it doesn’t mean that he will shield us from the consequences of our actions when we choose to ignore the needs of others for our own comfort.
And this evening, Jesus is reminding us that even though this great chasm has been fixed between the rich and the poor, he doesn’t want that chasm to be there. Because when a chasm has been fixed, each of us is too far away to help the other. To be a brother or sister to the other. And that is deeply dangerous to ALL of us. Even to those who are rich and think they have everything they need.
Jesus tells this story because the chasm is dangerous enough that it is desperate. And not because we’re going to suffer eternal torment- I don’t know how God is going to handle that. But Jesus speaks the truth that chasms between people are dangerous for our lives- now and for all time.
So we know we’re supposed to bridge this chasm, even if we don't want to. We get that Jesus calls us to live differently, but how do we do it?
Well- I think it starts with the table. And people know I love tables. Our ministry at Towson is called The Table and I talk about tables a lot. And that's partly because the communion table is so central to our life together. Because it is where Jesus feeds us with strength, forgiveness and unfailing love. But I think our practice of coming to the table also molds us into who God means to be. In just a few minutes, we will gather here around the same table. It’s the same table for those who are rich and for those who have barely a cent to their name. It’s a table that resists all the chasms that divide us in the work. At this table, there are none who feast while the others starve.
At this table, no one fights to be first. We wait with our hands open. We know there will be enough, so we wait our turn. And we invite others to come and join us here because there is enough.
And at this table, there is no place for status. There is no place for ranking ourselves and sitting in places of honor. Because, in the face of God, none of us have any status but the one given to us in our baptisms, “child of God.” Here we do not decide who deserves mercy and who doesn’t. We just come, all of us undeserving, waiting to be fed. At this table, those giving out the meal greet each person as if they were an honored guest and they are thrilled to have them at the table.
And as a pastor, one of my most favorite moments in worship is when I walk down from the altar and bring communion to those who can’t walk up to receive it. To bring the bread of life to the people waiting in the pews with their hands out. Because at this table, no one is left out. And that is a reality that always makes me almost tear up. At this table, God will walk down to us if we don’t have the strength to make it there. God will go to wherever we are to make sure we are fed.God will bridge whatever chasm stands in our way of recieving life and love.
Week after week, we come to this table. It is how we live our life together as Christians. It does not solve all the problems in our world. But it teaches us how to live. You see, we dare not learn how to live by sitting at the table where the rich man feasted, where Lazarus longed to even get to beg for crumbs. Because that table only teaches us how to live with that great chasm between us.
But at this table, the one our Lord sets for us, we learn to live as God has called us to. Here we learn to put our hands out to receive rather than trying to grab something for ourselves. We learn to feed our brothers and sisters just as generously as we have been fed. Here we learn that everyone who comes hungry for what God provides deserves a place at this table. And here we are trained to bring that bread to our brothers and sisters who are in need of the bread that is life.
Because that chasm still exists in our world. And it is growing wider. But here at this table, we have one who bridges the chasm for us. Who teaches us to live together as beggars in need of the bread of life. Who knits us together as brothers and sisters. Who leads us out to make our world look like the table we are gathered at.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 19, 2016 at 2:00 PM|
Jesus once told his disciples, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not understand.” And that sounds about right with this one. For 2,000 year, people have been scratching their heads, trying to make sense of a story about a man who cooks the books to save his own skin, loses the boss’ money by only looking out for himself and then his boss congratulates him for how clever he was.
So, what is Jesus up to in this parable? Listen to it again.
There was a millionaire who hired a man to be in charge of his money. Let’s call him this money manager Bill- it makes telling the story a lot easier. It so happens that this millionaire earned much of his money by making loans to those who didn’t have as much- to regular people like us. And Bill was in charge of writing up those debts.
But the money wasn’t flowing like that millionaire wanted and he suspected that Bill was doing something funny with the profits. So he tells Bill that his days are numbered. But life moved a little slower back then and Bill didn’t have to clean his desk out quite yet. So he had some time to consider his next move. Bill lived in an economy where there weren’t many jobs. If he lost this job as manager, he’d be forced to do manual labor or he’d be out begging on the streets. He wasn’t nearly as strong as his neighbors (they worked outside all day while he counted money!) and he was simply too proud to beg. There were no options left for Bill if this job ended.
No option except to trust the community to care for him. But Bill knew that communities don’t tend to care much for loan officers when they’re all in debt. So, he decided to be the best loan officer there was. He called his neighbors in and chopped their debts in half before the millionaire had time to figure out what was going on.
And when it came time to fire Bill, the millionaire came into town and heard cheering crowds before he could even get to Bill’s house. All the people that owed him money were thanking him for cutting their debts, for making it so they actually had a chance to pay off their debts and be free! Everybody loved the millionaire. And he knew at that moment that he could be the man everyone loved or he could have his money back. And he chose well. And Bill kept his job. And the people thanked God.
The story sounds a little different from this side, doesn’t it? I think we get stuck looking at things from the top down, just like we do in life too often. We see this man cheating his boss. We see him being dishonest in his work. We see a man looking out for his own skin above everything else. And we tend to miss the fact that the people that needed forgiveness got it. The people that needed to be set free from their debt were set free. Bill was welcomed into the community and learned its value. The millionaire who needed to be set free from his greed was set free. And what happened in the end was good for everyone. There was freedom and healing and joy.
And that sounds a whole lot like the kingdom Jesus has promised to bring among us- a time when the wounded are healed, the sinful are forgiven, the lonely are welcomed into community, and the powerful are brought low enough that they can sit at the table with their brothers and sisters. Jesus preaches about a world turned upside down, a world where peace and love and forgiveness win out. And somehow, our friend Bill played a part in bringing that kingdom. He used his wealth to create community and set people free. He was dishonest and he had all the wrong motives and yet he still did the work of God’s kingdom. And that is good news.
So, Jesus says, if someone looking out for their own skin can do kingdom work with their money, then why aren’t we, God’s own chosen and beloved ones, doing even more of that? Why aren’t we better at forgiving debts recklessly for those that need it? Why aren’t we better at setting those who are imprisoned by greed free so that they may trust God? Why aren’t we Christian people as good as Bill at using our wealth (and for the sake of those poor in cash right now- wealth also includes our health, our time and our privileges) to do the work of the kingdom?
So, this evening Jesus is commanding us- that whole “You cannot serve God and wealth” is pretty strong language- he’s commanding us to use our wealth to invest in those things that proclaim the goodness of God. To forgive the debts of those who have no hope of paying them- whether it’s a debt of money or a debt of guilt. To invest our energy in bringing homes and food for those who live without them and healing to those who are sick. To use our time and privilege to provide a place of welcome for those left out. Jesus tells us to do all this to reflect his love to those who have stopped hoping in a God that cares about them.
And Jesus tells us- apparently- to start doing all this even if our motives stink. Even if our heart hasn’t been overcome with a warm, fuzzy Jesus feeling. To do all this even when we’re only serving others because we don’t want to look like a jerk or sharing our money to get something out of the deal. Because- even though this doesn’t seem right and seems super inauthentic and not Jesus- like- apparently even crappy motives can bring us closer to the kingdom of God.
You see, when Bill started reducing those debts and doing the work of God, even out of terrible motives, his life changed. He saw a new vision of how things could be. He had new friends. He had a new sense of what was really important. Despite his selfish motives, he was transformed. And he did God’s work despite the crappy state of his heart. And isn’t that good news for those of us who feel like we’re in the same position? Who have hearts that aren’t quite as good as we would hope. Who wish we loved better or wanted to do good a little more than we do. Isn’t it good news for all of us who don’t trust God all that much even though we wish we did?
It is an amazing relief to know that we get to start doing good even before we feel like it and that God says it still works when we do! It still works to bring God’s kingdom and it still works to change us. You see, Jesus knows well that that when we invest our time and our money somewhere, our heart will eventually follow. So we can start being clever about using our wealth for the sake of doing Jesus stuff- setting people free and celebrating the ones who feel rejected. We can use our wealth to welcome home those who feel lost, to speak truth to the powerful and greedy, and to bring healing and abundance to those desperate for it. And when we keep doing that, our heart will start to love those things. And our heart will start to love and trust the God who brings those things. And then, that beautiful kingdom of God comes to us, too.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 12, 2016 at 1:00 PM|
We are The Table. And what do you do at a table? You eat, you tell stories, you laugh, you feed others, you share life. And you sometimes do deep stuff like forgive, challenge each other to live better, and welcome people in who had never found a place to belong before. That's what our table looks like, too, because that's what Jesus' tables looked like.
Jesus had this habit of making sure people were fed- you know, with healing and hope, but also with food. Real food! And Martin Luther, a guy we thought said some powerful things about God, said all of us who try to follow Jesus are just "beggars telling other beggars where to find bread." So we want to tell you where you can find food this week- free food on campus at Towson! Whether you need the food oryou just really like the concept of eating something you didn't have to pay for, enjoy!
MONDAY, SEPT. 12
Welcome Back Snack Break- 2pm- Cook Library, 3rd floor
TUESDAY, SEPT. 13
FoodShare (food pantry for students, faculty and staff)- 10am-12, Catholic Campus Ministry Center (7909 York Road)
Dinner and Discussion @The Table- 6pm- Union 208 (campus ministry room)- our weekly discussion and home-cooked meal.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 14
Center for Student Diversity Unity Cookout- 5pm- Union, Potomac Lounge
THURSDAY, SEPT. 15
Federal Depository Library Bithday Bash (cake and Rita's)- 11am-12, Freedom Square
FoodShare (food pantry for students, faculty and staff)- 4-6pm, Catholic Campus Ministry Center (7909 York Road)
FRIDAY, SEPT. 16
Laser Wars (laser tag and ice cream sundaes)- 8pm- West Village Ballrooms
For more food, follow @TUFreeFood on Twitter!
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 12, 2016 at 10:10 AM|
As Alex and I were getting ready for our Tuesday night dinner discussion, I asked her the question that we would ask our students later- what’s the first thing that came to mind about what Jesus did on earth. And she asked, “Is it bad that the first thing I think about is that he ate with prostitutes?”
It didn’t seem to be a bad thing for Jesus- he was known for hanging out with tax collectors (known for cheating people and for working with the ruling Roman powers) and sinners, which included women with a reputation. He was known for hanging out with the folks who were considered unacceptable because of who they were or what they had done. All of these folks had been hearing Jesus’ gracious words, they’d been seeing his miracles. They’d been noticing that he didn’t mind being around people like themselves and they started to come closer to hear what he had to say. And Jesus was thrilled to share a meal with them. And share life with them.
And of course, the religious folk weren’t happy. That’s how it tends to go in Scripture. And this evening it’s the Pharisees. These were folks who spent their lives trying to follow God’s rules. And presumably this was out of an actual holy desire to be in relationship with God. They weren’t jerks. They were good folks who were irritated that this good Jewish teacher was spending time with these folks who weren’t living right. Because one of God’s holy rules was to keep ourselves separate from outsiders and sinners. It was how God was going to protect us and our short attention spans from getting pulled away from God’s will. And there’s some truth in that- removing temptation is helpful!
So we often make those Pharisees out to be bad people for grumbling and complaining, but they’re just trying to make sure that their religion still matters. That doing good stuff that God tells us to is still important to others. Because following these rules are the way they know to be in relationship with God. So if this Jewish teacher throws all that out by welcoming just anyone, regardless of if they are following the rules, then what do the rules even matter anymore? Is everything suddenly ok and God’s will for us can be ignored?
But Jesus isn’t known to answer our grumblings directly, regardless of how justified they might be. He tends to answer by telling a story. So when Jesus hears their grumbling, Jesus looks right at the Pharisees and tells them about a sheep who is lost. And he tells the story in the presence of the tax collectors and sinners who’d been crowding in to see him.
And this sheep had been separated from the other 99 and was on his own without any help. The sheep was in danger of starving without someone to lead it to food and water and was in danger of being attacked by wolves. And he says that this lost sheep is so utterly important to the shepherd that he will leave behind 99- 99 sheep that are his livelihood, sheep that are known for doing stupid stuff like getting themselves stuck in streams and being led away by sheep stealers. The shepherd will leave them all behind in order to rescue the one who is lost. We’ve gotten used to hearing this parable, but I assure you that this is a rather stupid move to make. Rationality does not do something like this- only love does.
And not only does the shepherd go out to rescue the sheep who wandered away, then he calls all his neighbors and friends to rejoice with him over this sheep. They are expected to be as happy as the shepherd is over its return. Because there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
And that’s not fair. I mean, it’s plain, 100% not fair. Ok- so you like to look for lost folks, God. That’s fine. But we have to rejoice with you about finding each one while the 99 good folks who follow the rules don’t get anything? Why in the world would we do that? And why in the world don’t we get anything better for following? I had a student text me one summer after reading this passage and ask me why Jesus was being so mean to the good people. Because rejoicing even more in the folks who have messed up is terrible news for those of us who have done a decent job in following.
And I imagine at that point Jesus probably looked up a little and turned his eyes over to the tax collectors and sinners and tried to get the Pharisees to look at them too. Because I can’t imagine what it felt like to be a tax collector and to sit and hear that God utterly delights in what you can become. That the only way your past can define you in God’s eyes is to make you more worthy of rejoicing over. That God’s willing to leave these good folks on their own to call out to you in welcome and in rescue.
Because what would it be like to this said publicly to defend your right to be right where you are, right next to Jesus- even as the powerful people were complaining? What would be it like to have Jesus publicly say that you could live a future completely different than your past and not have the crap you did in the past follow you around anymore? And not only that, you are told that there is joy in heaven over you. God dances when you take hold of the love he has for you.
He looks square at the Pharisees and says, “Our God goes after the ones who find themselves lost. Because they need to be found. That’s what mercy does. Over and over. Look at your brothers and sisters right here at the table and know how much they need that word. And nothing- not your self-righteousness or your holiness or your jealousness- should get in the way of bringing that word and rejoicing when others hear it. Because the word about my love IS THAT GOOD! It’s ALWAYS that good. And if all this that I’m saying pisses you off, then maybe you don’t understand the love of God well enough.
Yes, my rules still matter, Jesus probably told them. I did just finish telling everyone that you need to give up the hold you have on your family, your life and your possessions to follow me. I’m not really watering anything down. But first things first. Some of my friends here have not heard the word of love you already know. So at this moment, at this table, the only words that need to be spoken are about mercy for those that are far from God’s love. There will be time for other words that challenge and teach us all to live differently. But when you are lost in the wilderness, the only words you really want to hear are, “Someone is looking for you and they will find you.”
“So let your brothers and sisters hear my word to them and listen in- because you need to hear these words, too. Know that I love you. I have so much hope for you. I refuse to be done with you, even though at times it may seem like the intelligent option. Whatever you have done in life is not stronger than what I can love into being through you. My love and mercy is better and bigger and stronger than your mistakes, your missteps and your failings.”
I want you to know this in your heart and I want you to celebrate that this is who I am. I want you to celebrate that this is how my love works. AND I want you to celebrate these beloved ones who you call outcasts. These ones who have now felt this love of mine and made it their home.
I want you to celebrate them and I want you to keep noticing them and welcoming them. You know, not like second class citizens, but as people as beloved as you are. Reflect my love and be people who rejoice in restoration and return. Who rejoice EVERY SINGLE TIME a child of God comes to find their life and their hope in God again.
And welcome them back into God’s love without shaming or scolding. Now, that doesn’t mean we need to lie. We can be honest about sin and evil. When others are hurting their brothers or sisters or are trapped by greed or addiction, we need to speak up. We may need to work together to restore trust or repair relationships. And we might even need some holy anger like God had in that first lesson when the people started worshipping a golden calf. But those might not be your first words. Because when someone is lost in the wilderness and in pain, “God delights in you and I welcome you” are the words we need to lead with.
So we are called to be people of mercy. Not because we always like it, but because our God chooses to, over and over again, be a God of senseless mercy. Overreaching love. And foolish welcome. For people who mess up. For people like us.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 6, 2016 at 10:40 AM|
My campus ministry students know that I am something of an expert on all the naked people in Scripture. I don’t know why this is, but it somehow comes up a lot in Bible studies. And this is not only a fun fact, but actually has something to do with the sermon.
Well, last semester at UMBC, we spent one night reading stories of saints- those “official” Catholic saints and other faithful Christians who had done extraordinary things in order to follow Jesus. And that’s when I happened to come across the story of Brother Juniper who served with St. Francis of Assisi. And his story stuck with me, because, wouldn’t you know it, kept giving his clothes away to everyone in need that he met on the road. He did it so often that his superiors finally had to forbid him to do it again. So the next time Juniper saw a man in need, he told him that he couldn’t GIVE this man his tunic, but we wouldn’t prevent the man from taking it either. Brother Juniper just couldn’t imagine another way to live than to give all he had to his brothers and sisters in need.
Folks like Brother Juniper make us laugh at the absurdity of this way of life, but they also make us rejoice at the sheer beauty of it. What treasure of God must Juniper know to live like this? What secret joy in giving away everything for Jesus did he find? And how did he have the courage to follow Jesus like this?
These are the questions we have when we see someone actually be able to live like Jesus calls us to this morning. Because, today Jesus is really pulling out all the stops in telling us how hard it is to follow him. You know, the big stuff like not putting our families or our safety first and giving up all we own. Things that are pretty much antithetical to how much of our culture tells us to live. And things that are pretty terrifying and heart-breaking.
And Jesus starts where it hurts- with our families- those folks that both love us and shape our lives from day one. And Jesus tells the crowds around him that they need to hate their families to follow him. But he meant something more like, “don’t give first preference to.” Don’t let your family’s wants and needs dictate your decisions. Don’t let them be your first priority. That place belongs to God alone.
And he says the same things about our own lives- we’re called to refuse to put our desires or even our safety first and foremost in our lives. So perhaps it then doesn’t come as a huge shock that Jesus tells that unless we give away all we own, we cannot follow him.
And that just sounds mean and unreasonable and a little condemning. If we can’t do what seems impossible, then we’re not allowed to be a follower? Does Jesus not love us then? That’s where we may go in our heads, but we already know Jesus’ love for us is without question. But Jesus is trying to tell the crowds and us something else this morning.
When Jesus says, “if you don’t do these things, you can’t be my disciple,” it’s better translated as “you will not be able to.” As in “If you don’t treat what you have as completely unimportant in comparison to following where Jesus leads, then it’s not going to work. You’re going to get a little ways on the journey and then not make it since you will be weighed down. And if you don’t make Jesus’ calling a priority far above the obligations and wants of your family, you’ll be called in many directions and get distracted. If you’re worried about safety at all costs, you won’t be able to do the courageous things that Jesus asks of your for the sake of bringing love and justice to the world.
You see, Jesus is being honest about a life spent with him. It’s not for the faint of heart. He was telling the crowds that he was going to keep preaching and living out the kingdom in the face of persecution. And that meant that only those who trusted his lead and put it first in their lives were going to have a chance of withstanding what was ahead. Because even though this following Jesus thing leads to joyful, purposeful God-filled life- it’s not going to easy.
Jesus is giving us a gift- he’s telling us the truth about what needs to be central so that we can put other things- even good things- in their place. If you don’t make this one central choice about where your focus lies and where your heart lies, then you’re not going to be able to make any of the smaller decisions you will need to make. Jesus sorts through all the things that compete for our attention and our devotion and puts them in their place.
And frankly, it’s a gift to have someone who knows where life and beauty and joy are found do the orienting of our lives. Because we have a tendency to not always make such good choices when left on our own! So it’s a gift to have one who loves us be the one to lead us. It is a gift to get to follow one who promises that we can join him in bringing the goodness of God into the world.
But it will mean change and a complete reorientation of our lives. So we need to count the cost before we sign on. Because those who follow Jesus no longer make decisions based on what is best for themselves or even what’s best for their family. They may be called to live in more dangerous neighborhoods so that they may bring a gracious and calming presence there. They may live more simply than others to devote their resources to those in more need. They may spend a lot of time away from their family for the sake of helping those who seem less deserving. Their choices may not always be supported by their family or by our society when they do what Jesus calls them to do. Just like Brother Juniper’s actions weren’t exactly celebrated, even by his religious community.
But Jesus calls us to follow him toward the life and beauty he brings no matter what just like Juniper. You see, Juniper got so caught up in the loveliness of following Jesus that even though he did things that were ridiculous to our eyes, they seemed perfectly normal and even necessary for him to do. Because he had different priorities. And because his eyes were looking toward a different future. As he looked toward God’s future where all people had enough, clothing those in need with whatever he had to give was the only possible way to walk this path with Jesus. So he just did it.
But , since all of you here at church are clothed, perhaps we’re not as gifted as Brother Juniper was at seeing and trusting this kingdom. So what do we do then? What if we’re not as foolish and courageous enough to dance into this beautiful kingdom of God like him? How then can we LEARN to be?
I don’t know the answer, but this is one things that my students and I have tried together. Every year a few of my Towson students and I make a promise to gather every other week to hear what God had been up to in our lives. We share about the moments when we felt like something greater than us was at work and those nagging thoughts that God keeps tapping us on the shoulder with. And we would support each other by connecting those moments and thoughts to the stories of Scripture, as best we were able. Then we would simply ask, “What is God saying? And what are you going to do about it?” We would ask the questions that are THE questions in the life of following Jesus, but they are also the questions that often don’t get asked in the course of a busy life.
And then we would check in with each other later in the week and the week after that and the week after that to see if we had actually done what we planned. We checked in because this is what love does- supporting each other in the things that matter, supporting each other in the things that lead to life. This life of following Jesus matters, so it was worth pushing each other a little.
And because we found that checking in wasn’t always enough, we promised each other that in any crazy thing Jesus called us to do, that we would find two others to walk the way with us so that we would be strong enough. And that we would be some of those people for each other. We called each other to listen to God. We held each other accountable and we walked beside each other as we did the hard work of following. We echoed the exact things that Jesus does on the way with us- he calls us, supports us and goes on the way with us.
Now, together we didn’t do all that Jesus calls us to. Not by a long shot. But we took some steps along the way. And we hoped that living like this together might prepare our hearts for the moment when Jesus may ask us to walk away from anything for the sake of following.
So I pray that I pray that you find those Christians in your lives that love you enough to ask you hard questions about following Jesus. That challenge you and cheer you on. And I pray that you will be ones who love others and enough to ask them about things that matter and walk beside them in the courageous work of following.
Because Jesus invites us to a life where we are free of the stresses and pulls of so many things on our time , by inviting us to make the one decision that decides all others. He loves us whether we follow well of not, but he wants us to have the freedom to leave behind all that bind us in order to follow him. Because the life of following is beautiful, just like the life the Juniper lived. And it is what Jesus wishes that each of us would grab hold of for the sake of knowing the love of God.