|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 29, 2016 at 8:00 PM||comments (0)|
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||comments (0)|
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||comments (0)|
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||comments (0)|
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||comments (0)|
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||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 18, 2016 at 12:20 AM||comments (1)|
This morning started with a tour of some of the African American history of Charleston- and a reminder of how intertwined the lives of African Americans and whites have been for centuries and how uneasy the relationship has been between them in many cases. We saw slave quarters, such as the unpainted back rooms on the mansions that were only announced by their lack of beauty and prestige. We heard the stories of slave insurrections and how the slave owners put up spiked bars to protect themselves after th rebellions, rather than actually enacting justice. We heard about the taxes that freed blacks had to pay and the indignities they had to endure. We heard about the degrees of blackness (1/2, 1/4, 1/8. . .) and how that determined status. And we heard how African Americans found ways to resist giving into the system that oppressed them, even though they had to live within it. Because when you cannot overturn the system right away, you have to find ways to keep it from owning you until that system can be dismantled piece by piece.
The woman from Charleston Promise who spoke to us yesterday happened to have an aunt who was a historian at Emmanuel AME and she was able to get us a tour this afternoon. We were able to hear the story of this denomination- founded by a free black man who could not receive communion in his congregation and began his own church where he would be seen as worthy of holding the bread of Jesus in his hands. And we heard the story of when this congregation- founded in 1818 and forced to close in 1834 after the slave rebellion. They had to meet in secret to worship for 30 years until they opened again in 1865. And we got to sit in the sacred space where people keep coming to worship after 9 persons- including most of their ministerial staff- were killed in their basement as they studied Mark 4:26 just 9 months ago. Ms. Alston talked about how this tradgedy has made them stronger, how they are willing to forgive and how this has not made them fearful. And she spoke of their place in the spotlight as a gift to be able to share who they are and their response to violence. She spoke as a woman who knew where her true strength comes from. And it was a holy moment to go downstairs and step into that place of violence, which has been returned to its useage as a fellowship hall. A place where the body of Christ gathers to defy the evil that tries to take over. As Christians, this is our calling- to resist the evil and pray for God to clean up what we cannot. To gain strength from each other and from our identity in Christ.
After standing in that holy ground, we simply needed a breath, so we went to see a tree. An old, old tree. About 500 years old. The oldest living thing this side of the Mississippi. The Angel Oak has lived on Johns Island while Native peoples were removed, while Africans were enslaved, while the Civil War was fought, while African Americans fought for civil rights and it keeps living through the horrible stuff we do to each other and through the joys and celebrations. It's gangly and needs to be held up in places, but also beautiful and strong and expansive. May we be like it.
We stopped by the Charles Pinckney Historical Site on the way back- a rice plantation where slaves outnumbered the whites 6:1 when any whites were even there (this was just one of their homes- they came here for holidays.) The museum told about how children would spend much of their childhood with enslaved Africans- as their cooks, their caretakers and therefore some of their first teachers. Their lives would be intertwined. And yet nothing remains of the slave quarters. Only the owners' house is standing. And that's a reoccuring theme. Old homes of the rich exist, but not the shacks of slaves. Not the places where most of the people lived. Their houses weren't meant to be lasting. They were expendable. As were the people in them. They were valuable for how they could work, not for their humanity. So their stories are lost. Just like they are lost when the ones in power are the ones writing history. There was sign upon sign of what the owner did in his life. For the many, many slaves, there and fewer signs, and all ones depicting the enslaved people as a whole. I know that's because there's not much known for sure about individuals, but it still speaks powerfully to the reality of those lost stories. That unrecognized humanity.
And finally, tonight, we got to Grammy's house, the grandmother of one of our UMBC students, Maddie. Grammy cooked us dinner, baked us warm chocolate chip cookies and opened her home to a bunch of college students spread throughout her house. What a gift to us her hospitality is when we are tired and weary from all that our minds are wrestling with.
Filled up with cookies, we gathered for worship. Each student brought a prayer or a song or a Scripture for a "potluck worship" and we reflected on the experiences we will bring back with us and what we're still struggling with. Students over and over lifted up their conversations with individuals- hearing their stories- as what changed them. Whether they were conversations with folks that helped them see their future vocation more clearly, converations with those whose life has been vastly different from their own, or persons who opened up questions they hadn't even considered, it was these relationships and converations that changed them. These are what they can't wait to tell someone else about. And at least half our students shared the same thing they are struggling with- "what is next?" How do I carry these realities into life? How do I keep connecting with those in poverty? How do I know how to work for justice? How do I resist the forces of racism in our world? How do I bring healing to the world? This is the deep privilege of working with college students. Listening to these questions and the passion with which they speak them. This gets to be our work in the coming months. And years. To keep struggling around these questions of what God has called us to next. To encourage each other. To hold each other accountable. To listen for God together. And to do what we did tonight- gather around Jesus. And pass him to each other, as we did the the bread and the grape juice, and remind each other that he's among us and will keep showing a way forward and will walk that way with us. We leave early tomorrow for the journey home- exhausted, full of questions, but ready to see what God will call us to in these days ahead.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 16, 2016 at 8:00 PM||comments (1)|
This morning started with the sounds of folks setting up tables next to our rooms so they could set up for the food pantry that happens twice a month. Food from the food bank filled the whole hallway and another room held clothes and some of us helped the church members set up jars and jars of pickles and begin to hand them out to guests. What a welcome atmosphere to hear folks pray "let us recognize the face of Christ in each of our guests" before they opened the doors and to have one of the church members give a guest a ride home when she asked. The food pantry has joined other church outreach programs to help the church get to know the neighborhood and to begin to foster racial reconciliation in it. Tasha has been hired to help the church through this process. We got to talk to Pastor Eric Grayson and Tasha about the realities after the shooting of Walter Scott. The mayor and police chief immediately responded to the shooting and arested the police officer, but there has not been a lot more that has happened in the community since, in contrast to the activism in Baltimore. Pastor Eric and I discussed the question that stuck with me from yesterday- is it better to deal with racial issues by having a public and contentious discussion or is it better to keep tensions down by dealing with issues swiftly and more "discreetly?"
After many days of hearing about the problems, it was great to start to hear about some hope and some ways forward from Anthony Haro from the Low-County Homeless Coalition and Sherrie Snipes-Williams from Charleston Promise. Anthony gets to use statistics and a statewide database to help homeless service providers see the bigger picture and actually make regional decisions about ending homelessness. And he spoke with such passion about how he actually believes that homelessness in Charleston can end. That there are possibilities and ways to mobilize political will. And Sherrie works with the Charleston Promise Neighborhood, a section of Charleston that they are pouring intensive energies and resources into so that in a generation, it will be "socially and economically indistinguishable from the rest of Charleston County." They are creating wellness clinics in the schools to help working families, has a robust afterschool program that gives students field trips and experiential learning like that their parents couldn't afford, and puts superior teachers in the schools and gives them the resources they need to excel. They are moving on to jobs and housing next. The whole larger community, through tons of partnerships, is involved in bridging the opportunity gap so that students with lower incomes have some of the same experiences as those who are more affluent. There ARE possibilites. There is a way forward.
And we talked to a retired pastor at St. Matthew's Lutheran about Next Step Barnabas Ministries (part of Barnabas Ministries that we would work with for the hot dog ministry later), which is a mentoring program for those looking to move forward toward finding jobs, housing, etc. Volunteer mentors meet with folks to hear about their goals, then work with other folks to link them to services. The mentees need to do the work to move forward, but the mentors listen, help make a plan forward and hold them accountable. And to be their cheerleaders. Because we all need cherleaders and people who believe in us and help make the way ahead more possible.
And then tonight- after seeing the big picture, we met Wayne from St. Matthew's Lutheran for the "hot dog ministry." Under the overpass near an encampment of folks without homes. About 100 folks in this encampment. Every single day of the year, a different team of folks show up with a meal to serve to whoever comes- folks without enough money for food, those staying in shelters who want a better meal, those living in their cars or those in the encampment. We handed out hot dog after hot dog to folks while other street outreach teams handed out toiletries and checked blood pressure.
It was obvious that the folks cooking and serving knew these folks. That they were a community with them. And they did this even though they were there illegally- their permit to serve food in that location ran out over 3 weeks ago and may not renewed. But people are hungry. So they keep showing up- and I think they would be willing to be arrested if it came down to it- in order to keep feeding people that Jesus loves. The hot dog ministry started in 2008 when two college students felt convicted by their faith to feed those in need. They started giving out free hots dogs on a vacant lot once a week and it has grown into a daily ministry.
Wayne has been doing this ministry for the past 6 years. He's a retired professor of phamacy and family medicine and has made this a part of his life every Wednesday evening from 5-6pm. And it is obviously something that matters deeply to him and, as he shared, comes directly out of his faith in our loving, healing Jesus. Wayne has an ease of conversation with the folks there- they are friends in different circumstances, especially "Hat." Hat cares for those newly homeless by showing them the ropes. He also is a man willing to put his faith into words- he prayed mightily for us and for all those sleeping outside while in our prayer circle before we left. It wasn't all perfect- there were folks that came who were battling addictions and clearly were not winning that battle and it was hard to see some of our brothers and sisters in such rough shape. And all we did was eat some chili dogs together- nothing fancy, just food and a food line. But it was given in recognition of another's humanity. In recognition that our guests bore the same face of Jesus that we do. It was a small thing, but it spoke to something larger. We were a community. And when one suffered, all suffered in some way. And our shared humanity was more vital than our comfort in ignoring the needs. And our shared humanity meant a student giving up his socks for one whose feet carried him through a hard life.
Today was a day full of big things. Of folks who were dreaming big dreams and helping us see the big picture of a way forward. And it was full of small things- food pantries and hot dogs and mentoring. And it was deeply hopeful- full of hope that things can change on a big scale and that the reality of Jesus' kingdom can break in- a kingdom where ALL people have what they need to live. And it was also full of the hope that comes when human relationships are built and another's humanity is recognized. It was a deep reminder that being brothers and sisters is hard, complicated, inconvenient and exhausting, but it is also where joy is found. In community is where stories are shared. Where we find purpose. Where we learn about God in ways we couldn't on our own. Where we practice the kind of love that God has for us. And the kind of hope God has for us. And where we learn to live into the future that God promises.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 15, 2016 at 11:20 PM||comments (0)|
We started our day in Orangeburg, where 3 college students were killed and 27 injured in 1968 after they protested to integrate the local bowling alley. Students from nearby Claftin and South Carolina State Colleges, brought increasingly more students each night to protest and when 300 students showed up on the third night, the National Guard was there. And things turned tense. And a window was smashed. And the police thought they heard gunfire. And 3 students were killed. Sounds eerily familiar. This was the first time that police brutality was tried in the courts and all 9 officers were acquitted. And in 2015, we witnessed the same reality for Tamir Rice in Cleveland. And Eric Garner in NYC. And we are living through that possible reality in Baltimore. Although the bowling alley is closed and there's not even an historical marker there, it was powerful and also powerfully sad to be in a place which witnessed the same reality that happens over and over again today.
We met up with John Wnchester for a tour of Charleston, where he was refreshingly honest about some of the ugly realities of our history and gave us a lot of food for thought. It was a lot to take in all at once. Of the 500,000 Africans brought to this country, about 250,000 came through the port city of Charleston. So there were slaves sold in many parts of the city- often very publicly near the docks. And then it was realized how much of a spectacle this was and the movement to move these to interior streets and inside buildings. It seems right in line with some of the history in Columbia- the desire to preserve appearances and do things with dignity. But did it just help people to lie about the ugliness of the institution of slavery? Would it have been better to put it all out in the open and make Charlestonians look bad in the eyes of visitors until they would dismantle the system? When do we need to publicly put ugliness on display in order to change things?
And we also saw how stories were hidden because of decourum. The house below was occupied by a "free black woman of color" (the official terminology of the time). Although we don't know her story individually, many free black women gained their freedom after fathering children of the slave master. The masters would release these female slaves and their children and set them up in homes in the city. I'm sure many people knew the stories of these women, but they were not told publicly. They attempted to hide the reality that African Americans and whites were far more intertwined than they pretended to be in public.
And this marker, found at the Unitarian Church, reminded me of the deep value of truth. It is not an end- but perhaps it is a beginning for us. It says, "In memory of the enslaved workers who made these bricks and helped build our church." It acknowledges that the history of their church was connected to a painful part of history which was deeply and morally wrong. And it lifts up a tiny way that story and allows it to be told alongside the other stories of the church. Even be told BEFORE the other stories. And it honors the work of craftsmen that had no choice in the building of that place. But it realizes that they are a part of that church's story. What would it look like to make this kind of beginning at reconciliation? And what is the next step for this church and others? What happens after we name the evil that existed? How do we make a new story in a different way?
Tonight we are staying at Aldersgate Methodist Church in North Charleston with another group that is doing flood relief in the area. And we are staying in rooms set apart as a warming shelter for those experiencing homelessness in the colder months. It's a neighborhood that is economically disadvantaged and I learned today that it is also only 3 blocks from where Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot by police in April 2015. Another story that needs to be heard. Another story that has played itself out in our country too many times. Looking forward to hearing the truth of our history and our present again tomorow.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 15, 2016 at 12:10 AM||comments (0)|
Our day started by passing the World's Largest Fire Hydrant on the way to the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Pastor Salley shared part of the story of the Methodist Church. John Wesley intended for the church to be a racially mixed body, but this was not allowed to happen in the South. Racial tensions divided white and African American churches early in the 1800s and kept them separate until they intentionally combined as a conference in 1972. We went to learn about how this new conference lived together intentionally in the years following. Pastor Salley talked about intentional cross-racial appointments by the bishop- where a white pastor is placed in a primarily African-American church or vice versa- as a way the bishops have sought to encouage racial diversity in congregations. But when we asked if this had helped increase the diversity of indivdual congregations, Pastor Salley couldn't say that it had much. And these cross-racial appointments are fewer these days, he said, except when a church requests it. And he said that most congregations remain racially homogeneous. And that it's still work to make sure committees are fully representative of the racial and gender diversity of their churches. Pastor Salley spoke the truth about this work of encouraging racial diversity- it's hard work. And our traditions often hold us back. And just because we say we want to be a diverse church doesn't mean we are willing to step into all that means. As a pastor in the ELCA, a denomination who is still many, many years behind where the UMC is in racial diversity, I hoped that we would hear that it was easier. And that the unique ability of Methodist bishops to send pastors to congregations, even ones who may not choose a pastor of a different racial background on their own, was something that would change the reality of the church far more quickly that could happen in the Lutheran tradition. But that's not what has happened. Because there are no easy answers in racial reconciliation. This is always hard work. But necessary work.
And there are no easy answers to the realities of poverty, either. This afternoon, we served with St. Lawrence Place transitional housing, which was born out of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. It houses 30 families for up to 2 years, supporting them as they move toward independence. Some of our students cleaned out a recently vacated apartment to ready it for another family. But this time it was a sad story- a family moved out suddenly and this was not part of the 97% success rate the program has. This family didn't make it into permanent housing. And their time at St. Lawrence Place had to end. Kids' homework was left behind in the haste to leave and it was a reminder that sometimes even wonderful programs cannot make a way for every family. Sometimes challenges are beyond our ability to help. And sometimes we have to choose carefully who to help when our resources for helping are limited. The choices aren't always clear and our students struggled with how to deal with the pain of not being able to change the situation of another and not being able to make positive choices for someone else. This work is hard.
The rest of our students and I were in the storage shed sorting blankets. Lots and lots of blankets. We were making sure all the donations were in good condition and ready to outfit the apartments of new families coming into the program. It was work that program staff doesn't have time to do during regular hours. The amount of things in the shed was overwhelming. All of these things were donated to make sure that families can be welcomed into homes. There is so much to give. So much desire to give. Which is beuatiful. And yet, sometimes the work of getting our "too much" into the hands to have too little is still overwhelming.
When we brought some order to the chaos of the blankets (the photo above is the AFTER shot!), we traveled to Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary for a tour and hear about new vibrancy on campus since it became a part of Lenoir-Rhyne College and now houses a graduate school and soon an occupational therapy program. The campus for church folk is now a campus to the larger world and Luther sits in the middle of the campus and plays the lute.
The Rev. Dr. James Thomas of the seminary joined us over pizza and shared stories with us. He grew up as a Baptist in Louisiana at an all-black school and, as an 11th grader, had to write a paper on the Protestant Reformation. When he was told that his paper was wrong (Martin Luther wanted to get married and that's why the Reformation happened, his teacher told him), he brought his paper to the all-white Lutheran church he passed on his way home from school and asked the pastor to look over his paper. Two days later, he was called into the principal's office and that pastor was there telling the principal that Dr. Thomas' paper was completely right and he would go to the superintendent if this teacher didn't correct the grade. Later, Dr. Thomas began going to this congregation, which was a bit scandalous in the time he grew up in rural Louisiana, and the 28-member congregation had to vote to allow Dr. Thomas to become a member, since he was an African American. This was his welcome into the Lutheran church. A vote. Not on his faith, but on whether a 17-year old young man whose skin was dark, was welcome to be a part of the body of Christ in this place. We're past those days, but I wonder if some of our predominately white congregations feel any more welcoming. Does it ever feel like the congregation is giving those who visit our churches a "vote" as to whether they belong?
And I was struck by how grateful I am to persons both willing to stand up for us and fight for us, like this white pastor, and even more so for the courage of people like Dr. Thomas who stayed in a congregation that was not ready to greet him with open arms. Who looked past the way the society said things should be and risked going where God had called him. Dr. Thomas kept following where God called him- to serve as a principal, work with special eduacation students while also pastoring a church, to earn degree upon degree (five I think, but maybe it was 6) and eventually end up teaching in the seminary. And he talked about how he often challenges his students and calls them to look behind what they think they know about the world, challenges them to change and calls them out to be what he knows they can be. And it made me wonder how many times in the Church we choose to be nice rather than calling people to what God really wants of them. And I realize how it never serves anyone but ourselves and our own comfort. It does't help bring the transformation of people or of society that Jesus promises is possible (not comfortable, but possible and certain). And maybe that is the theme that ties our day together- the work of creating a world that looks more like Jesus promises is not easy. It means calling people to something greater. Something that feels hard. Something that calls us to be uncomfortable for the sake of a more beautiful future that we can't even see. It's hard to go there. We will make mistakes. We will feel awkward. We will fail and will not be able to make everything better for everyone. But we follow a road that Jesus did. And we still walk it with him. And there is no failure that Jesus can't bring good out of. So, what in the heck are we so afraid of? It's not easy, but it's worth it.