|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 12, 2020 at 8:55 AM|
A sermon on Matthew 22:1-14
Having watched enough wedding show on TV, I know that this parable is not how wedding celebrations are supposed to go. Especially not ROYAL wedding celebrations. They’re supposed to be over the top celebrations where everyone wants to be- to eat the free food and to be seen by the important people. But Jesus tells a story that doesn’t make sense- where all the folks invited find ways to get out of going. Some folks ignored it, some say they’re too busy and some get angry about being invited at all!
And maybe the only part of this story that DOES make sense in how the king responds. The guy who just paid for the celebration. I set a feast, he must have said. It’s FREE the food is good and I CHOSE to invite you to it. So what could be more important than coming? What could get in the way? And what could make you so angry at the invitation that you’d want to destroy the party and hurt the messengers?
But in his anger- which gets pretty destructive- the one thing the king doesn’t do is cancel the party. Nothing- not even the bad attitudes of those he invited can’t make him stop that celebration. And he says- I’m just going in invite more folks who don’t usually get invited. And I’ll fill up my house. The party’s that important. It HAS to go on. Because it’s the party of God’s kingdom! And that kind of party cannot be stopped.
And do you know what that means? Our bad behavior isn’t going to cancel the party! And in a whole country full of bad behavior right now by so many, isn’t that a blessed relief to hear? God will not cancel the banquet of his love even when we’re horrible. And God will keep inviting folks- even misbehaving folks- to join in! Because our God is so much better than we are. And so much more patient and tenacious. So that party won’t be cancelled. Even if we choose not to get ourselves there right away, the party will keep going on.
And, beloved ones of God, we are folks who have heard about a party and showed up for it. Because we’ve heard this is a banquet we need to get ourselves to! We’ve heard that God’s party is a place of forgiveness for ours mistakes. And we’ve heard this feast is a place where we will finally be filled up instead of always being hungry for more of whatever we think we lack. We know this is a banquet where there is peace is on the menu- a peace that lets us take a full breath even when things are still a mess around us. And we’ve heard that it’s a feast where we are invited to belong, to be among fellow beloved ones in a community where love is central, even if it’s always imperfect this side of heaven.
So we’ve dropped what we were doing and walked in to enjoy the grace God is handing out- like when we line up on the sidewalk when we see they’re handing out free ice cream somewhere!
And what good news that would is- we all get invited in. Well, it’s good news until we get to that next part of the parable. That part where the one person gets thrown out for not having the right clothes. And my memory goes back to going to Baptist church with my grandma when I forgot to pack a dress for the weekend I visited her and how she told me how ashamed she was for me to show up that way. I don’t remember getting thrown out into the outer darkness, but it can feel like that when grandma says she’s disappointed.
But Jesus was not my grandma- and I trust that what we wear doesn’t matter, despite what some churches and some people in churches may say. So what’s up with the wedding garment?
Well, for one, everyone knew that a wedding garment was expected. It wasn’t something that you could claim you didn’t know about. And it was common that those who were too poor to have a spare garment could borrow one from a friend. So, it’s not something that had to do with your status. And, some scholars think that it was the host himself who was responsible for providing a wedding garment to anyone who didn’t have one. So, it definitely isn’t a problem of not being able to get your hands on the right clothes.
Not wearing a wedding garment, and especially not to wear a wedding garment to the wedding of the king’s son, wasn’t because someone was poor or ill-informed. Instead, not wearing a wedding garment was an act of defiance. It meant that he wanted to come to the wedding on his own terms. Maybe he was just stopping by for a minute on his way somewhere else. But he had decided to only doing only what made him comfortable. He was showing up for the free food, but he wasn’t willing to be a part of the party.
Because our regular ways and actions get comfortable, don’t they? Our old habits get too comfortable to change them. And we don’t think we need to bother, either. So we hold onto our fears, our resentments, our prejudice and our hatred. We get comfortable not sharing our gifts or sharing our money or sharing the best of who we are with one another. We speak about folks in ways we shouldn’t or get too lazy to do the work God needs us too. Sometimes we get comfortable going our own way and we think the king should just be thrilled that we showed up in the midst of our busy lives. Not showed up to church, but to the reality of God’s work in the world.
But as much as we may be loved by God no matter what, this morning Jesus seems to say that it does matter HOW we show up to the party. I love you folks, but you need to change out of those sweatpants and get dressed for the party!
When we think that us saying we love Jesus is enough, Jesus says, “change out of those sweats and let my love change your heart and mind and soul.” When we think we don’t need to be compassionate and forgiving because God loves us already, Jesus says, “put on my robe- be clothed in my love so you can actually do the work of loving your neighbors. When we think we don’t need to resist evil in ourselves and in the world because God will understand, Jesus says, change out of those comfortable clothes and be clothed in my strength to stand against the evil that tries to take over.
And I don’t think that’s meant shame us for when just don’t have the strength to get ourselves ready. I don’t think it’s meant to kick us when we’re already down and struggling. And it’s not to tell us we need to be shined up before we get ourselves to church or the community of God’s people. We know full well that Jesus lets us crawl our way into the party of God’s love if that’s how we have to get there.
But when you come inside, take the robe that you’ve been given and put it on, Jesus says. Don’t stop by in sweat pants on your way to where you really want to be. Trust that you’re supposed to be here. At my banquet. Because you were invited. Trust that you have been welcomed in to the feast I’ve spread and that you belong here. Because here there is grace for you. There is hope. There is healing and peace. There is food enough for everyone. I assure you it’s the best invitation you’re going to get.
So change out of the sweatpants. Stop wearing your old ways and thinking that no one will notice. Put on the robe and come inside and join the party. Be all in- don’t hedge your bets and be ready to leave. Put on the robe and get ready to stay awhile. Dress like you’re ready to party in my love. And then let the party begin. And let it begin to change you.
|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.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM|
Luke 14:1, 7-14
This Tuesday, we officially begin our new adventure called “The Table”- a joint Lutheran-Episcopal ministry at Towson. And the name “The Table” came out of our life together as a ministry- sitting around a table together to eat and discuss. And it came from reading about what Jesus did at tables in the gospel of Luke. And this morning’s gospel lesson was one of the central texts we discussed. So it seems pretty fitting that God has worked out to have us read this lesson this morning.
Jesus sits down to dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, one of the area’s most important religious leaders. And rather than make small talk, Jesus tells his host, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
He sits down to a nice dinner that he’s been invited to and tells the host that everyone around the table shouldn’t be there. Instead, when you invite people over to dinner, don’t invite your friends or your family or the people you want to impress or the people that can help you get a job or the people you admire. Instead, invite those with little money, those who are hungry, those who have physical challenges. Go find those people who don’t usually get invited to dinner and bring them over to your house. Welcome those people who you try not to notice, all those people that are different enough from you that they make you uncomfortable. Invite all the people that can’t do anything for you. And then you will be blessed.
We’re used to hearing stuff like this from Jesus. Hard stuff. He tells us to give up what we own. To be prepared to cause division in our families and suffer physically for following him. And then we get to today’s text, where Jesus just tells us to change who we invite for dinner. And I’ve got to tell you, for some reason these words seem almost as hard to live out as all that big stuff.
Because who we eat with is a pretty personal thing. We eat with people we like and who make us comfortable. Who make us feel like we belong. And when we stretch beyond just eating with those folks we like, it’s usually for a good reason- like having lunch with your boss or a client at work to get ahead. Or hosting a party to impress some folks or to introduce people to each other. Most of us don’t do a whole lot of eating with random strangers if we can avoid it.
So why is Jesus messing with that? Why is he being so insistent about who we should invite to dinner? I mean, we all know that he wants the poor to be fed, but can’t we just give them their own meal? We know he wants those who face physical challenges to be helped, but can’t we do that some other way? Would all these folks really want to come into our homes, anyway? Wouldn’t that be just as strange for them as it would be for us? Why does Jesus care who we eat dinner with, as long as we care about others and make sure they have what they need?
That’s what I say in my mind when I read this passage, but in my heart I think I know the reason already. I think that Jesus is so insistent about who we invite to our meals precisely because they are so personal. And they are so ordinary and central to our lives. Gathering around tables together is how we get to know each other. Sharing a meal with someone is a way show that we value them. And a way we show the world who we are willing to be seen with and connected to. And often they are also about social standing- who we are equal to, who we are better than. They’re often ways that we show where we stand and who we are willing to stand with. They are central to understanding who we are in the world.
But Jesus comes to show us a new way that doesn’t look like the rest of the world. That has different values and different ways of life. It is one where peace is more powerful than violence, love is more powerful than death and where justice is more important than power or wealth or status. It simply doesn’t look like the rest of the world. And one of the ways that we’re going to learn about and live out that kingdom is in one of the most ordinary and personal ways we can imagine- changing who is around our dinner tables.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and us that meals in the kingdom aren’t about status or the people you like- they are about a crazy community that would only be called together by me- a community whose only connection is that they are people that I am absolutely crazy about. And at these kingdom meals, all the folks who don’t get much love out in the rest of the world get an extra special seat at my table. And they get that seat simply because they need it. So when you set the table for a feast, Jesus says, remember these folks that I shower my love on- the ones who need to feel that love the most. And make sure they have a place at all your celebrations.
Because, he told the Pharisees, all those good law-abiding folk who loved God, you already know you are God’s children. You know that God thinks you are an utter delight. But there are some folks who don’t get that. And the truth is, you’re going to be the person through which they learn. So your meals are meant to be about the ones who never get an invitation. And if you’re ever in that category- if you are someone who is struggling and in pain, someone who gets left out, someone who can’t understand my love, then I’m going to bug your brothers and sisters to invite you because I adore you. And I want you to know that. And perhaps, when they invite you in to their party- invite you by name and out of love- you might learn what it means to be loved by me.
So go invite your brothers and sisters in here at my meal. Make my welcome of them real- in flesh and blood. And then take your place among them. Get to know the ones I love. Get to see what I love about them- even if you have to look hard. And see how I love them even when it’s difficult. And then maybe you’ll get how I love you, too. Even when you make it plenty hard for me.
Make your meals a reflection of the kingdom I’ve been preaching about and maybe you’ll start to learn how amazing that kingdom is. That place where the only status you have is “child of God” and that is all the status you need. Where you don’t need to figure out who is more important and who is less important or worry about what group you fit in. You fit in simply because you are loved by God and you invite others in because God loves them, too. Start living that way in your meals and maybe you’ll start understanding that this how things already are in God’s kingdom. And maybe you’ll start to fall in love with the kingdom and with me again.
Jesus is saying that to love the kingdom, we have to start living it. That’s what his followers do.
Jesus keeps telling us that to be his follower is to be known and defined by the strange things we do in order to live out the message of Jesus. It is to be so in love with the kingdom that Jesus is bringing that we risk living it out on earth. And perhaps that starts with one of the most personal and ordinary things we do- inviting everyone into our meals. Inviting all those who get left out and might make you a little uncomfortable. All those who need an invitation more than anyone else. Inviting them simply to eat with us and be a part of our lives for awhile.
This is what I know Jesus calls us to- as individuals and most especially as a Christian community. Because this is what he lives out- eating with public sinners, tax collectors, important people and those of no account. And I know that Jesus wants our communities to actively embrace everyone. To go out into the streets and invite folks into our homes and our communities. To invite them in for dinner. But I’ve got to admit- I don’t do this most of the time. This is not how I live and not how most Christians live. Inviting everyone- especially those who have more challenges and more needs than most- is hard. It’s inconvenient. It takes up a lot of time and energy. We don’t have the resources to do it. And worse than that, I have to admit that I don’t really want to do this most days. I don’t want to make my meals like Jesus says.
But just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t keep inviting us to this work.. So perhaps we need to admit how hard Jesus’ words are. To admit that they are not always easy or a whole lot of fun. And as a community of people who are trying to follow Jesus, continue to challenge each other to live out Jesus’ words. To try it out as a community together so we might have the strength to do it. Perhaps once a year, then a few times and then once a month. To try inviting folks to a meal- at this congregation or at a restaurant or in someone’s home. Not to convert them. Not to get them to join the church. Not to do anything but simply share life with them. Hear their stories. Learn who they are. And for an hour or two, simply to be willing to share our lives with those that Jesus desperately loves.
It’s not going to change our lives overnight. It’ll still be strange and awkward. But Jesus calls us to this so that we might learn what the kingdom is like. So that we might learn what the love of God is like. How wide and abundant and overwhelming it is. How it embraces us no matter how challenging we are, and whether others like us or we like ourselves. We’re invited to invite others in so that we might learn how God keeps inviting us to the table because he adores us. And then, we get the privilege of inviting others to the table so that we might get to show someone else how much they are loved by our God.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 25, 2013 at 2:25 PM|
So, I’m betting you’ve been to Palm Sunday worship before. In fact, some of you may have already been to one this morning. And you know what it usually looks like. If there’s kids in the congregation, they’re helping to bring the palms in and hand them out. And if not, there’s still a time in the service when everyone waves those branches to remember the shouting and the joy of the crowds as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. Welcomed him as king- the one who would change the country, change their lives and save them. It’s a hopeful moment before a sad week to come.
And the people shouting “Hosanna, save us!” are like the cheers at a ballgame. They are shouts of wishful hope, hoping that this one to come will be the one to change everything. Hoping, but not yet trusting. But everyone around them is hoping and shouting and it feels right to believe. At that moment on the road as people are shouting, everything seems possible for Jesus.
But this evening we hear someone else’s view of the same scene. Because when you’re looking at the same thing, it all depends on what you’re focusing on. And when Luke tells the story, it’s a bit more calm, a bit more mournful. A telling that comes from the heart, not the eyes. Luke tells it as someone who can feel what is going on underneath the surface.
It’s still a joyful story, it’s just different. Jesus comes in on a donkey, sitting on the coats of his disciples. As a king coming to meet those who he is called to rule over. He comes just like the Scriptures always said the king would come.- humbly, but with honor. And the people around him get it- they knew their Bible a little better than most of us do and they knew what this little parade was supposed to symbolize. A man on a donkey with his supporters walking with him- this was the king that was coming to save them. And they took their coats off to throw before Jesus, hoping that if this really was the Messiah, they should honor him and get on his good side.
And the crowds aren’t the only ones who get it. Although the disciples can be pretty dim-witted at other times, this is a time that they are doing what they are supposed to. They announce Jesus as the one who is mighty, who has let God work through him, who has all power. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout. He is the one who has healed and fed and brought life and spoke of hope. The disciples testify to what they know- that Jesus is God walking with them, the one who is the king over every power and the one who brings peace in a world that just keeps warring around him. They get it and they have every reason to be joyful.
And yet, beyond their joyful shouts, they know that even all this power, all this peace, is not enough to keep Jesus safe. Or them safe. So their voices start to shake as they cry out, “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Peace in heaven, but not always here on earth, they know. They have known a bit of the uncertainty and the suffering of following Jesus. They have seen the anger that Jesus’ words cause. They have seen their friends and family turn away from them because of the one they follow.
It’s as if the disciples are saying, “I know that there is no place we would rather be, no one we would rather follow, no other one that we can possibly call king, but those words make me choke. Because it’s hard to follow you. And going another way seems so much easier.
And somewhere in the crowds, the religious leaders are getting annoyed. And nervous. And frustrated at all those who have put their hope in this Jesus. And they tell Jesus to quiet these ridiculous people. To stop them from proclaiming him king, stop this ridiculous procession and stop their shouting. But Jesus knows that the truth he brings, the peace he offers, the love he embodies can never be fully hidden. It cannot be sealed away.
Even if his disciples were shut up, even if anyone who had ever met him were silenced, his love and peace would break into the world. If they had to, the stones would announce the goodness of Jesus. The creation would erupt with joy and proclaim what Jesus’ kingdom is all about- a place where all that is broken is set right and where Jesus loves the world back into beauty. Where fear is defeated in the face of his earth-shattering love
You can try to shut them up, Jesus says- you can try to shut me up- but my kingdom is more powerful than that and it’s going to seep in through the sidewalk cracks and through all the broken spaces in life. Seal it away in a tomb, but my life cannot be stopped. You can try to quiet my people, but then the stones would cry out with my love.
But this week, the stones don’t have to cry out. Because the church will be shouting the truth of Jesus’ kingdom everywhere. Telling the story again to our world.
We’ll all be entering into an ancient story together so that it can seep into our bones. And we’ll be announcing it to all who will hear, to all the broken places in the world and all the places too indifferent to care. We will join Jesus at the supper and go to the garden with him where we can barely stay awake as he prays. On Friday, we’ll sit in the dark to hear again that Jesus has died and wonder how that makes any sense- God suffering in our place. On Saturday, some of us will hold vigil outside the tomb together as we to try to learn again what these things mean.
Not just for Jesus, but for us. Now. How they change our lives. How they change what is possible and change what we hope for in a world that is too painful and too violent and too confusing. We walk with Jesus again so we might have a chance of remembering how to walk in the rest of the world.
This week is how we relearn the deepest truths of our faith. That Jesus goes to the deepest and most fearful places for us- even to death- so that we will not go there alone. That Jesus destroys those places of terror and danger so that they will not have power over us. We learn again that Jesus looks at us with love when we have betrayed him, denied him and ignored him. And we watch Jesus love us more than his own life. And then we watch God do what cannot be done- bring life where it shouldn’t be.
We tell this story this week with the whole church so that we can learn again the truth that sets us free and that will set our world free. That through the ugliest and most painful parts of life, God’s hope and God’s live keeps seeping in. That not even death can stop God from breaking in. It is a story powerful enough to change us and all who share this earth with us. It is a truth powerful enough that even if we do not speak it, the stones would shout out.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 3, 2012 at 2:30 PM|
Welcome to Advent. The world is falling apart and coming to an end. There are wars and famines. Stars are falling out of the sky and the seas are raging and foaming. And that’s how the church year begins every single year in Advent. It never seems to fit with the happiness of the Christmas season around us.
And it doesn’t seem to fit us as Lutherans. I mean, we know there’s end times stuff in the Bible, but we tend to pretty much ignore it and leave that for those conservative religious types. We’d rather focus on doing good Jesus-y stuff in the world.
But even though it seems weird and kind of a downer, all this end times talk is an essential part of our faith. We need to know the end to know where we are headed.
You see, Advent isn’t just a season of waiting for Christmas like a kid counting down to their birthday. It’s not just a time to remember the story of Jesus being born in a manger. It’s a time of waiting for Jesus to come into our world AGAIN. To clean up all that is a mess. To heal all that is broken. To make this world into what God intends it to be. That’s why it is a time of such deep hope and expectation. So, every church year we begin by looking to the end of history. To see what we are waiting for.
And that’s what Jesus is busy telling his disciples in the chapter of Luke we read. By the time we get to the words we hear in the gospel lesson, Jesus has already been talking to the disciples for a couple of paragraphs. He’s been telling them that the time is coming when there will be famines and earthquakes and that his followers would be persecuted and thrown in prison. And that the city of Jerusalem would be surrounded and conquered. Pretty much their world is going to look like it’s falling apart.
You’d think that much doom was enough for one day, but Jesus wants to get it all out there, so he just keeps going with the words that we hear this evening. So he tells them that after all this other crappy stuff, the sun and moon and seas will be in chaos. The sun, moon, and stars, which are just always supposed to be up in the sky doing their thing, will be changed and out of order. And the seas will be crazily stormy and the tides will be out of sync. All of nature will be in disarray.
And not surprisingly, people are going to be freaking out. Whole countries will be in chaos because they’re not going to know how to handle a world that’s gone crazy. No one else will know what to do, he says, but I have told you what will happen so that you’ll be able to be strong and courageous in the face of the mess that’s coming.
In fact, when all this stuff starts happening, that’s when you need to stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
You’ll see the signs and know that I am in them. You’ll know how raise up your head and look the chaos right in the face. So when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” The time when I will come again in glory is right around the corner. It may look like the world is falling apart, but it’s simply getting ready for me to come again and set it right.
So pay attention to what’s happening in the world. “Be on guard,” Jesus says. “Be alert at all times.” Read the papers. Watch the weather. Listen to what is happening among the nations. And when it’s frightening and makes no sense, remember my words. That’s when the kingdom of God is near.
Face the terror with courage. Pray that you will be ready for whatever happens. Pray that you will have the strength to be who God needs you to be in the midst of all that is going on around you. And don’t be overcome by it. Because I am in it. I will bring this world to perfection.
When the world is falling apart- when wars and violence seem endless, when hurricanes strike where they never did before, where drought and global warming and hunger and illness make our world seem like it can’t survive any longer, Jesus calls us to have hope against hope. And to work in the direction of that hope.
And as ones who are confident instead of terrified, we are called to be the ones that care for our brothers and sisters. We’re called to act in love and compassion when others are paralyzed by fear. To bind up the wounds of those around us when others don’t think it’s worth bothering. As ones who can trust that Jesus is coming to set this world right, and not destroy it, we can speak peace to those who are terrified and are tempted to react with violence and selfishness. We are ones that can testify to the hope that Jesus gives us, the hope that keeps us alert and joyful in the craziest of times.
In fact, we are to be people “infected by hope”- to be signposts of hope for those who are locked in fear or are doing their best to avoid looking reality straight in the eye. We are people who can see the world for what it is- a mess in need of God’s fixing. And we don’t have to be afraid of its messiness and its brokenness, because we know that at the end of time, God will fix all that we cannot. God will restore all that has been destroyed. God will bring peace to all the places where peace seems impossible right now- in Syria and Israel and in the streets of Baltimore.
To walk confidently toward the future that Jesus promises, even if the world seems to be falling apart around us. We don’t know when that redeemed future will come- just as Jesus did not- only that we are absolutely assured that it will come. Simply because God has promised it.
But until then, we wait. We wait for the brokenness to be healed in our world. And that is why we so deeply need the gift of Advent. Because waiting is hard and we don’t know how to do it all that well.
That’s what we talked about last Wednesday at UMBC. We talked about how we’re into the whole instant gratification thing. And we tend to get overwhelmed by what may happen and freak ourselves out. And, since half the folks in the room didn’t come from a Christian tradition and very few of the rest came from a church that celebrated Advent, I was trying to talk about this great season of waiting that we have. One that helps us learn to wait well in all our life. And they asked, “so, what do you DO in Advent? What makes it so helpful?”
And although I love Advent, I felt a little silly telling them that the big thing we do it light candles on a wreath, one each Sunday, watching the light get brighter. And we put a deep blue cloth on the altar, the color of the sky just before morning, as a way of having hope. And we read the stories about the end of the world and about the prophecies about Jesus and the stories of John the Baptist. And we pray. In the midst of a big, fancy Christmas season, our candles and readings and prayers seemed ridiculous. They didn’t seem like enough. Just like Jesus’ promise to come again to redeem the world doesn’t seem like enough if the world is falling apart. And yet it is. Advent is enough and Jesus’ promises are enough only because the one for whom we wait is faithful.
So welcome to a holy Advent- welcome to a time in the midst of the crunch of exams, when it might seem like the world is falling apart. Lift up your heads and know that Jesus is in the midst of this trying time and in all that is chaotic and a mess in your life and in your world.
And I invite you to live this Advent in this community and ones back home, even when you think you don’t have any time. Take 5 minutes each day to read the stories of hope. To visit an Advent calendar on-line. To light a Residence Life approved candle welcome the light of Christ into the world. And join with us on Sundays and Tuesdays and Thursdays as we light candles and sings songs of expectation and call each other to hope in Jesus. As we welcome God’s presence into our world and wait with joy and expectation for God to bring this world to perfection.
For, people of God, Jesus truly is coming again. So “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 10, 2012 at 5:30 PM|
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
Haven’t you wanted to say something like that to other Christians some time? Maybe it’s not them showing favoritism that drives you nuts, but maybe it’s their hatred, their indifference, or their arrogance. But haven’t’ you, at times, wanted to give others a little “what in the world are you thinking putting on a Jesus t-shirt on and then acting like that? How can you really believe in Jesus and do what you’re doing?
Well, James had some of that same righteous indignation with some of the folks in his community. Because he’s seen how they treat the rich and how they treat the poor. And it stinks. They give the rich the best seats and the tell those who are poor to stand in the corner. They are thrilled to have the important people with them but it’s pretty obvious that they could care less about those that don’t have money. Their actions are so wrong, so opposed to what Jesus preached that frankly, these folk need to consider if they really believe this Jesus they say they follow.
We can obviously tell that this isn’t right. But in case we think we’re doing any better, think of what it would be like if the president of Towson came to worship. We’d probably be honored and proud and would go out of our way to make her feel welcome. We’d get her a good chair and help her understand what we were doing in worship.
And then think of what it would be like if someone came who obviously smelled different because of a life lived without a home. Sure, we’d probably also get them a chair and help them understand what we do in this place, but many of us have to admit that we would also talk nervously to each other and assume they just came for a handout and would try to get them out the door quickly after worship.
So, what is up with acting like that, James says, to his community and to us. “Are you sure you really believe in this Jesus?” He said to love your neighbor- all your neighbors- as yourselves. He said blessed are the poor. He promised that in his kingdom, everyone gets invited in with joy to the banquet he sets. But when you gather, you love on the rich and try not to look at those who are poor. Just like the rest of the world. Shouldn’t your community look a little different? Maybe a little more like the kingdom Jesus talked about? If it doesn’t, how real is this faith you claim to have?
It’s painful, but it’s true. James is just speaking the hard truth that we all know in our bones, the one we like to condemn others with but don’t like to admit to ourselves. The truth that says that if you really believe in Jesus, if you really believe in the kingdom he preached about and in his victory over death, then your life looks like you do. Because belief is not a bunch of words, it is a living reality.
And that’s because believing in Jesus is not like believing that the world is round. It’s not believing that Jesus was a real person and really God’s son. It’s not believing facts. Believing in Jesus means knowing in your heart that life wins and love wins simply because God wills it. It means trusting in God’s kingdom- where the poor are filled, the weak are lifted up and there is justice for all who are oppressed. It means being captivated and drawn to this one who is God in the flesh. Believing in Jesus is turning your face, your self, your soul and your life toward this one that calls us. And when you do that, it will be pretty obvious in your life. Because when you have given your life to something, it shows.
It shows whether that something is training for the Olympics, working to save the environment, being in a relationship or being a good parent. Whatever we believe in, whatever we give our lives to, changes how we live.
So if you trust that the kingdom of peace and forgiveness and life beyond death that Jesus preaches, is really true and is really coming among us, then you have to live differently. Because the truth of that kingdom changes how you see the world. And it changes what is possible for you.
When you trust this kingdom that Jesus preaches, then taking revenge on others is not an option. Using others for your own gain is not an option. And, James says, ignoring the poor and favoring the rich is not an option, either. Because it is the opposite of what life is like in the kingdom. And by living that way, you betray the truth that you have given your life to.
Now, that’s not saying that if you trust in Jesus and his kingdom , suddenly you will act perfectly in line with what God wants of you. You’re still going to mess up. And sometimes pretty horribly. We’re still going to forget how to follow Jesus at times or get lazy or be too scared to do what we know is right. And we’ll still doubt and sometimes want to give up on this faith thing because it doesn’t seem to do any good. And yet, when you have faith in this Jesus, it means that your heart and your mind and your spirit are turned in a different direction. And that means that your choices about how to live will follow. And others will see that you follow a different lord than the world calls you to.
And that is what James is talking about. That’s why he calls out his community on their acts of favoritism and that’s why he says those famous words, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” If your faith makes no difference in how you live, he says, it isn’t a living faith. It is empty words. It’s not doing its job.
And that’s not said to freak us out or to threaten us. It’s just speaking the truth- the good news of God coming into our human mess to love us is meant to change us. Open up a whole new freedom for us. Set us free to love with reckless abandon simply because we are loved. Give us a direction and a purpose that gives our life meaning. And if our trust in the love of Jesus isn’t doing any of that, then our faith is dead.
This doesn’t mean that we need to earn God’s love by doing a bunch of good stuff. It doesn’t mean that whenever we mess up, God is waiting to slap us on the wrist and send us to hell. But thee words simply tell the truth- that whatever we put our trust in and give our lives to will show in how we live.
And that means in the way we treat people. The reality of God is that every single person is beloved. Hear that- beloved!! Treasured. Celebrated. For all that is possible in them and despite all the messes they will get into. And that means us and everyone else. We are absolutely beloved. Deserving of the utmost respect and welcome and celebration. The good news is that this means us. The bad news is that it means everyone else, too.
And that means that everyone who comes into our community, everyone that we encounter as a community while eating lunch or serving others or walking on the sidewalk, is deeply beloved. They are loved not in some cheesy after-school special sort of way, but treasured by the Creator of the universe. And they are worthy of every ounce of welcome and friendship we can give. Simply because they are made in love by the same God who made us. They are someone that Jesus would give his own life to save and honor.
And that means that every person who comes into our midst is cause for celebration. They are deserving of a joyful welcome into the fullness of our community- into our meals, into our prayers, into our inside jokes, and into all of our life together. Not because we are such nice, friendly people. But simply because we see the world differently as followers of Jesus. We see people with the eyes of God, or at least we try to. We welcome others and love them recklessly simply because God does.
And that means the person who wanders into our gathering from the street is to be welcomed with as much joy as the new student. The one who does not believe treasured as much as the one who grew up in a Lutheran congregation. The one who suffers from mental illness celebrated as much as the popular kid on campus. Simply because that is what it will be like in God’s kingdom. And that is the kingdom that we trust as our reality. That is the kingdom we live into. That is the kingdom we give our life to. And that is the kingdom that changes us.
And thanks be to God for that.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM|
Every day was pretty much the same for the workers where I grew up. They went to the strip mall on the side of town at about 6:00 and took their place in line. A few business folk ran into Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee on their way to work, but otherwise the parking lot was empty. Just a line of men waiting as the sun is just coming up, hoping that they will find work today.
And the first truck pulls up and the driver gets out and checks out the line. “You four,” he says, “come with me. $7.25 an hour is the going rate these days, right? So, $90 for 12 hours, then. Hop in.” And the 4 men climb in the truck and head off to a day of landscaping work in the hot sun.
And the rest of the men in line wait, hoping other trucks will come. They wait all the way until 9:00 am when the same truck comes by again. And the driver chooses 4 more men to join the first group and promises to pay them whatever is fair. And the same truck comes back at noon and at 3:00 to gather more men. By 5:00 at night, the parking lot is full as commuters have gotten home and are heading to the grocery store or picking up a pizza for dinner. But in the corner, there are still 4 men,waiting and hoping. And in an act that seems like mercy, the driver invites them to the last hour of work for the day.
When it comes time for pay day, the workers who came late don’t expect much. But they’ll take anything to bring home to their families. And they get their $90 paycheck and they can barely believe their eyes. They have enough to buy food tonight and finish paying the rent! And the rest of the workers see his joy and start thinking how good this boss is. Until they see their paychecks and they look just the same. And the ones who worked and sweated and whose backs are aching look at their paycheck and it almost seems like dirt to them. No extra pay for their hard workin the hot sun? And these lazy folks who moved a few plants around at 5:00 get the same pay? Then what was the point of working so hard? This isn’t fair!
And the boss asks those first workers, “What’s your problem? Are you jealous because I am good?” Your pay is still exactly what I promised you. You have everything you need for the day. I haven’t cheated you or taken away what is yours. But I never promised that I would be fair. I wanted all my workers to have enough so I gave some more than they deserve. What does that matter to you? You have all you need. Go home to your families and enjoy what you have.
And the boss is so annoyingly right that their pride is hurt a little. Yes, he was fair to them, but don’t they deserve to be valued more? Don’t they deserve to have the boss give them a gold star in front of everyone? This is not the way the world works!
It’s true, it’s not the way the world works, Jesus says. But it’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Just like the boss, the kingdom isn’t fair, but it is good. It’s a place where everyone gets what they need- from the one picked first for their strength to the one picked last because he had a broken foot and barely knew how to work a shovel. It’s a place where everyone gets chosen just because they need the work. It’s a place where we don’t ge twhat we deserve- but where we always get what we need.
It’s a beautiful kingdom to look at, especially when you are struggling to have enough or mourning for your brothers and sisters who go without. But it’s so far from what the world looks like. And I think Jesus tells us this parable is so that we can begin to see with kingdom eyes.
So that we can begin to ask- what would it look like if everyone who showed up hoping for a job actually got work to do? And what if everyone got paid enough to provide for their families? What if the janitor and the secretary and the CEO all got paid based on what they needed to live on, not what type of work they did?
It may not make a lot of sense as our country’s economic policy, but what if this is how we lived as followers of Jesus? What if this is how we handed out our love and our welcome and even our possessions? What if we gave to those who need it rather than those who deserve it? Imagine what it would look like.
It would probably look like a little like the Israelites in the wilderness who went out to gather manna in the morning. Every day they went out to gather it side by side, but at the end of the morning, those that had families of 10 ended up with more than those with families of 3. No one had too much and no one had too little. They all had enough. It wasn’t what they deserved- but it was what they needed. It was God’s kingdom at work.
And in the early church, the Scriptures tell us that everyone shared all that they had so that everyone had enough. The rich sold their possessions so no one would go without and they never bothered to ask how much work their brothers and sisters did before they gave them what they needed. The followers of Jesus worked to make the goodness of creation enough for everyone. They wanted to right what the world had messed up. It was God’s kingdom at work.
And still, Jesus sets a table of bread and wine every week where everyone has enough- the lifelong follower and the person who barely even believes anymore. The one who deeply wants to receive Jesus and the one that’s only going through the motions. The person who has labored among those who are poor for 40 years and the one who still doesn’t like giving a few cans of food away to those who need it. The table is set for all of us. No matter how long or how well we have served God, Jesus invites us all to the table where everyone gets an equal share of love and forgiveness. At this table, everyone gets exactly what they need and no one gets more than anyone else. It’s not fair, but it is good. Just like the God who loves us.
This is what God’s kingdom is about. And it’s what God’s kingdom will always be about- whether we’re ticked off because we’ve been working hard without recognition or whether we’re amazingly thankful for getting far beyond what we deserve. Grace and love and blessings are given how God wants to give them. And we are promised that although it won’t ever be fair, it will always be good. So we given two choices- we can work in God’s kingdom where everyone gets paid the same or we can sit outside and pout about how it’s not fair. Either way, it’s not going to change God’s goodness- it’s only going to leave us out of enjoying it.
A Jewish story tells of a hardworking farmer. The Lord appeared to him and granted him three wishes, but with one condition- that whatever the Lord did for the farmer would be given double to his neighbor. The farmer was thrilled and wished for 100 cattle. Immediately he received 100 cattle, and he was thrilled until he saw that his neighbor had 200. So he wished for 100 acres of land, and he was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbor had 200 acres. Finally, he stated his third wish: that God would strike him blind in one eye.
You see, you can either enjoy what you have or you can begrudge what your neighbor has. But somehow, Jesus knows, you can’t do both. We can choose to see the goodness of the kingdom or we can be ticked off that those that don’t deserve it get a piece of it. We can rejoice that we are chosen to do work in the kingdom of God or we can curse God’s mercy and try to earn recognition for ourselves. We can be proud of our hard work and think about how superior we are or we can rejoice that we have a paycheck that gives us everything we need.
No matter our choice, God’s kingdom remains the same. It is one where all who want to work are chosen, where no one goes without what they need, and where our loving God gives us all we are promised and far more than we deserve. It’s not fair- it’s better. Because it is good.
So come, enjoy the gift you have been given. Enjoy God’s goodness. And enjoy bringing others to know this God who is good beyond our understanding.