|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 7, 2020 at 9:50 AM|
“The beginning of the good news.” Those are the first words of the Gospel of Mark. Which sets us out with hope. And then in walks a man that wears scratchy camel’s hair and eats bugs inviting folks to join him in the wilderness. Which doesn’t seem like the easiest of beginnings. Not like the angels that appear to talk to Mary or Joseph is some of the other gospels. Getting ready for Christmas is supposed to be filled with light and hope, we think, but here it’s a guy telling us to get out into the wilderness.
And the wilderness is a hard place to be. A place that most of us wouldn’t want to go if we had a choice. Maybe for a little visit to get away from the distractions of life, but it’s not some place where we want to spend a lot of time. Because it’s a lonely place away from all the things we’re used to relying on.
And it’s not just the solitude that makes the wilderness so bad. Food and water and shelter are hard to find. Everyday is a new struggle. And beyond that, it’s dangerous. There are wild beasts and robbers are known to wait along the wilderness road. It’s a harsh and hard place to be.
And it sounds pretty familiar these days. We may have already been in the wilderness long before March, but now we’re all there together. Not all of us are suffering the same way or as much, but we’re starting to understand how hard it is to be away from what we knew and what we depended on. To not always have what we need. And to feel that it’s not safe around us. It’s disorienting and exhausting. And it’s just made the wilderness for some even harsher than what they were already living through.
And while we’re out here in the wilderness, John the Baptist says, “Come meet me here in this lonely place. And come ready to tell the truth about how you’re living. Come ready to leave behind the things that get in the way so you can start living differently. Because there is forgiveness here. And, because right here, in the middle of the wilderness, God is going to do a new thing for you! For us!”
And it sounds good, but it sounds like too much to do or hope for this year. The wilderness has a way of making it harder to hope sometimes. But thankfully, the people in Jesus’ day could hear John’s wilderness words and trust them. Because they heard their stories in them. They knew John’s words were a continuation of what God always did in the wilderness.
The wilderness had always been a special place for God’s people. Even though it was harsh and unforgiving, it had always been a place where God had sustained the people. God sent them manna and kept them alive for 40 years in the wilderness after God rescued them from Egypt. God had given them the law in the wilderness and led them with a pillar of cloud.
And the wilderness was where the prophets went to hear a word from God. And it’s where God spoke words of hope to those in exile. The wilderness may have been harsh and hard to bear- like John’s words to them- but the wilderness was also a place where God had a habit of showing up for the good of God’s people.
So the people in John’s day could hear wilderness words as words filled with hope. Words that proclaimed that God desperately wants everyone to turn to God and be made new. And the Scriptures says that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him” and confessing all that they had done wrong. The people were lining up for the chance to admit that their lives weren’t what they hoped them to be and they were in need of a new way of living. And they were willing to trust that there could be a new future for them.
Because they trusted John’s word from the wilderness- there is forgiveness here. There is hope. Because here in the wilderness, we can be changed. And here in the wilderness, God is doing a new thing among you, so get ready for it!
“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” One who is coming who will change you and change the world. John’s voice cries out the same in our own wildernesses with that promise that we all want this Christmas season- that there is a chance to be made new. For our broken places to be healed. For our distracted ways to be focused again on God. There is a chance to leave behind our harmful habits. There is hope for us to be the people we were created to be.
Out here, in the wilderness, where nothing looks the same as your life before. Here, where you are removed from the people you want dearly to be with. Here where it’s dangerous and disorienting and where it doesn’t seem like there is possibly enough to get you through, this is where God comes to begin our transformation. This is where God can turn us around so that we can walk out of the wilderness different than when we came in.
Which, I’ve got to tell you, is getting harder for me to believe when I look at the world as the pandemic wears on and our neighbors continue to struggle and we refuse to change the systems that keep racism so powerfully alive in our country. Because it doesn’t seem that we know how to learn lessons. It seems like we’re so determined to be right that we refuse to accept John’s invitation to admit our failings and admit the truth and be changed. And we seem so determined to just get through this wilderness by our own strength rather than let it have any effect on us. Rather than let it draw us to our neighbors or show our weaknesses as people and as a country, we just want to get back to the way it was.
So this year, I hear John’s call so different than many Advents. This year I hear John pleading with us and our country, “You stubborn children of God. You’re in the wilderness already and so am I, so listen up. God is up to something. God is doing a new thing. Right here! And you can choose to be a part of it and join in the work that God is doing. So you can either use this wilderness time to get ready or you can just ignore God’s coming.
So come, John says, and put down your burdens, all the things you’re carrying around that make life harder for you. Come and put down the lies you tell yourself and be willing to see the truth- about your own belovedness. And come and admit the truth about the things that you just need to quit doing. And the things you need to start doing to care for your neighbors well and live out the love of God.
Look up from the routine and the boredom and the struggle and the loneliness of this wilderness and see that things can be different. You can be changed. You can be made new. And you can be part of God’s new beginning in the world, a part of raising up the valleys and leveling off the mountains so that all God’s people can see the glory of God coming into the world.
We may not be able to choose when we get out of wilderness, but we can let God use the wilderness as a place of new beginnings, a place of change, and a place of good news for us. A place where we can learn again how to be a part of all that God is bringing into the world.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 30, 2020 at 10:35 AM|
Stars and sun and moon are failing to give their light. The heavens are in disarray. Right before our gospel lesson, Jesus said there will be earthquakes and famines and wars. The world is falling apart. Every single year, this is how we begin a new church year. With talk about the end of days and all the chaos that will happen in our world before Jesus returns.
And most years, it’s a big downer to start off Advent with all this end times talk right as the festive season is starting around us. But this year, these words sound a lot different- a little closer to home. We’ve just come through an election year like no other where fear and anger took center stage on both sides. And we’ve had to take seriously the need for racial justice and reconciliation in our country. There are still wars and rumors of war in too many places in the world. And the pandemic has made our lives look completely unrecognizable from what they were last year. These words don’t seem like an unwelcome intruder this year- they just sound honest. Things are a mess.
And so it’s a good time to remember that as scary as they may sometimes sound, apocalyptic words like these were meant as words of comfort for those who were suffering and living in uncertain times. ( I say that every single Advent from my seminary training, but this is the first year that I really understood that.)
This morning Jesus tells his disciples and us- “this moment you’re living through is part of what I said will be. So don’t lose heart when suffering happens.” Jesus doesn’t explain why these struggles will happen and he doesn’t say that it is his will to bring them. He simply says that there will be times when the world will be shaken and will seem like it’s ready to fall apart. In those moments, where fear grips your heart, when you’re exhausted by all that is going on, when you’re despairing, Jesus says, remember these words.
I have told you what will happen so that you’ll be able to be strong and courageous in the face of all that’s coming.
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 the moments where you think the world will fall apart, Jesus says, you know that the kingdom of God is near. These signs don’t mean destruction. They mean Jesus coming into our midst. They mean God’s promise of coming to this world again is close.
Look at the fig tree Jesus says. It sprouts leaves then you know that the summer is coming soon. That’s how nature works. Buds, then leaves, then summer happens. So you know how to read the signs of the world. And you know to depend on them. So, know that my coming is just as sure as the seasons changing. As sure as the sun rising every morning. Something that can be counted on. So when things in this world are out of control in the world, let that be your sign. Look that chaos right in the face and remember my words. Trust God to come to bring the kingdom and set things right. And when everything may pass away, know that God’s word will never cease to be on the earth. So cling to that word for your very life.
When everything else seems to be falling apart, Jesus says to us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” When the world no longer makes sense, there is still one thing to guide you. One thing that will not fail. Cling to my words, Jesus says.
Because even in a chaotic world, Jesus’ words still point the way forward. His words about self-giving love and forgiveness still teach us how to live. His loving welcome still teaches us to show hospitality to those who are left out.
When things don’t make sense, my words won’t pass away, Jesus says. So keep clinging to my truth. Know that there is abundance to be shared with our neighbors. And that mercy matters. And that healing happens. And that trusting God with your life and your future brings peace and life. Cling to my words, that will not pass away.
But then come those words that we’ve been hearing for the last 3 weeks in our gospel lessons. “Keep alert, keep awake!” Jesus says, for you don’t know when the time will come for me to return. No one knows. So the only way to be ready is to stay awake and alert all the time!
And after the year this has been, those words seem so incredibly exhausting. It’s exhausting to be told to keep awake when have trouble just remembering what day it is and when we are often too distracted and anxious to settle ourselves down at all.
But for those us of short attention spans, I think we can learn from Dory. Dory’s the fish that we meet in the movie Finding Nemo. And Dory has short-term memory loss and loses her train of thought about every 15 seconds. Which feels familiar these days. In the movie Finding Dory, she has a flashback to her parents. And suddenly in a moment Dory remembers their love and how much she misses them. And she is determined to go home. Her memory is fuzzy and she can’t concentrate, but the love is powerful enough to point her in the direction of her parents.
And she takes off on a journey that doesn’t turn out that well and it seems so unlikely that she’ll ever actually find her parents. But no matter what, Dory just keeps singing her signature song, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”
And she keeps swimming toward that love, trusting that her parents will be there and she will be home. And when she’s almost given up hope because of the journey, she sees a shell (something that always catches her attention) and then she sees another shell and then another. And she follows them until they lead her home. Her parents had been laying out shells for years to guide her home. And she just needed to follow them and “just keep swimming,”
These words from Jesus this morning are meant to be the shells that help guide us home to the heart of God from wherever our distraction and worry about the future may have taken us. These words- that seem rather ominous- are meant to lead us back to focus on the love of God when our memory of God’s goodness is a little fuzzy. When hope keeps slipping out of our minds. When nothing seems all that sure. Still, Jesus says, my words, like those shells, will not pass away. Follow them home. And just keep swimming toward me and the future I’m bringing.
We don’t have to stay alert to everything changing thing in the world and figure out how to deal with each new thing that happens in the world- that kind of staying alert keeps us wrapped up and anxious. Jesus calls us to stay alert by look up from the distractions of work and busyness and the news cycle and instead see the vision of what Jesus says will be one day. To stay focused on that love. To stay rooted in that word. Not so that we can avoid the world and its problems, but so that we can be rooted and centered in the midst of them. So we can face the future with courage. So that we have the strength to shelter our neighbors and speak God’s hope into the world. So that we can work alongside God in the work of peace-making and justice-bringing. So that we can point our lives in the direction of that love of God and just keep swimming and living out that love.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 23, 2020 at 9:35 AM|
OK- so how many of you have a list going in your minds right now? How many of you are starting to count up the times you’ve cared for those who were sick or given water to folks asking for it in the heat of the summer? And how many of you are remembering all the times when you ignored your neighbor when they asked for food or thought it was too much work to write to someone in prison? And now, how many of you have both lists in your head right now and are trying to see which list is longer?
That’s what this story from Jesus does! It makes us joyful for the things we’ve done to serve our neighbors. It makes us rejoice because we have somehow been able to serve Jesus himself and are called blessed ones! But it also makes us feel uneasy about all that we have failed to do, because Jesus says there is punishment in that.
So what do we do with that? With those competing lists in our heads. With hearing Jesus tell us that we are consequences for how we treat our neighbors?
We’ve got a few options. We could add up all the good stuff we’ve done to make sure we end up on the blessed side. Because all of us have absolutely fed those who are hungry or welcomed those who didn’t find a place or visited the sick at some point. Maybe even a whole mess of times. And we could conveniently forget the other column of things we failed to do. So we could ignore Jesus’ words about judgement.
Or we could admit our mistakes, but also say bad things about the folks who Jesus defends and celebrates. We could argue that caring for your neighbors shouldn’t cover over all the other things folks have done. Because those folks who feed and visit others aren’t always perfect people and Jesus shouldn’t bless them without taking into account all the other stuff they did. We could make Jesus think like we think and make him play by our rules of fairness.
Then again, we could also explain why what Jesus said is not really practical in our world, because too much mercy makes people behave badly. And we could tell Jesus he needs to live by the world’s reality.
Or we could choose to do the hardest thing of all. We could just listen to Jesus and learn from him. We could just hear this judgement for what it is- not an angry condemnation that says that we are worthless or terrible people. But instead words of truth spoken to us so that we have a chance to live better. A chance to be changed.
And maybe that becomes easier when we hear these words as our neighbors might hear them. Our neighbors who might hear them as a word of grace. That’s been helping me this week as I’ve been thinking of PeeWee, one of the founders of North Ave. Mission who died suddenly last Sunday. I’ve had the joy of being a part of that community that Vicar Atticus is helping lead since May.
PeeWee was a force of nature in that community. She had faced addiction issues, she had done things she wasn’t proud of, but as a leader in North Ave., she was living into who God made her to be. She was the one who welcomed the stranger- whether you were there for food or there to volunteer. She was the one that brought people in and connected them and made them family. She was constantly feeding those who were hungry with anything she had and she started “Aunt PeeWee’s Closet” to give away clothes every Monday. She was the one that had joy and energy and love no matter what- even if she was fighting with you.
And as much as I feel this passage as judgement because of the many times I should have cared for my neighbor better, I think that PeeWee would have heard this as grace. She would have been able to hear these words as joy in a life that was far from perfect. And I rejoice like heck because of that. My sister would hear words of hope and life from Jesus in these words. She would hear God say to her, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” She would hear that her works of mercy mattered- not just to the family she created- but to God. She would hear the blessed truth that showing mercy because you can, and because other folks need it, is to know the heart of God.
And because I rejoice with PeeWee and her example of mercy, it lets my heart open a little wider. It lets me put my defensiveness down for a minute. And it lets me hear the simple truth. To show mercy is to serve Christ. And to serve Christ is to find life.
This morning, we hear Jesus say- following me isn’t just about avoiding bad choices in life. Or about making sure you do enough good to the right people. Or about saying the right prayers or believing the right things. Following me is about mercy. Receiving my mercy for you and passing it on to everyone who needs it.
That doesn’t mean that those other things we do don’t matter. Turning toward God in the choices we make and the worship we offer always matters. But the words we hear today are a reminder that mercy toward our neighbor is always a God-like thing. Always. And mercy is not wasted. Ever. Even when it doesn’t seem to make any difference whatsoever.
We’ll still have moments where we need to speak hard truths and hold others accountable. Jesus makes that pretty clear by speaking these hard words to us in the first place to remind us how much our neighbors matter to him. So justice still matters deeply. But in a world that is too often harsh and cruel and isolating, Jesus reminds us that simple acts of mercy matter. Because the ones we show mercy to matter deeply. And they bear the face of God.
And you know that, Amazing Grace. It is who you are together. It is how you live the gospel in this neighborhood where God has placed you. You are a people that share mercy. Not because people deserve it. But because God gives it. And we all need it.
Every time I hear this passage, it makes me realize all that I can do that I haven’t. It makes me want to go to the store to buy food to feed my neighbor. It makes me want to write to those in prison by sending letters to our siblings in Christ in the Community of St. Dysmas. It makes me want to reach out to those who have been told they don’t belong and make sure they are welcomed in. Hearing these words from my king Jesus makes me want to be like one of those folks that are told they are blessed by God.
And if they’re making you a little uneasy like that, too, that’s ok. That’s what they are supposed to do. That’s Holy Spirit working through them. And the Holy Spirit isn’t always comfortable! But it is good, so good.
It reminds us of the beauty and blessing in following Jesus’ way. It convicts us when our hearts and minds may be a little distracted or weary or overwhelmed and brings us back to the central things. And thanks be to God, that Spirit encourages us and cheers us on when all our work for Jesus seems like it’s not enough and it’s not doing any good. That Spirit sings the truth back to us- our mercy matters. God sees. God rejoices. God opens the doors to the kingdom to us and covers us with blessing.
So instead of trying to defend ourselves or explain these words away, let them do their job. Let them open your heart up a little wider. Let them encourage you do the thing for your neighbor you’ve been putting off or that you think is too much work. Let Jesus’ words make you a little less careful in deciding who gets your mercy. Be like God in letting it spill over to everyone. Not because they deserve it. But because they bear the face of God. Because they need mercy and grace just as much as we do.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 17, 2020 at 12:25 AM|
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Stay awake and keep vigilant, Paul tells us in that letter to the Thessalonians. For the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Sounds a little ominous, doesn’t it? And that’s the least scary of the 3 lessons today! November is the month in the church where we read about the end of days and this morning Paul is telling us- ok, don’t panic, but since Jesus is coming when NO ONE expects- just stay awake and vigilant and you’ll be fine.
Which sounds exhausting, probably especially exhausting right now as we’re also being asked to be extra vigilant about our health and the health of those we come into contact with. Because staying vigilant sounds like we need to keep one eye open and always slightly anxious and be ready to burst into action at any moment. And we don’t have the energy for that. But Paul has something completely different in mind. Something more like, “live ready.”
When I was in middle school, I would get home from school before my mom returned from work. And there would often be a list waiting for me of a few chores my mom expected me to do. And, like most middle schoolers, I would look at the list and then grab a snack and watch some TV and generally waste time. All until I heard the garage door open. And then my heart would race and I would jump up to begin my chores, so I at least looked busy when Mom came home. Because I wanted to wait to the very last minute to do anything, I lived in terror of that garage door. Rather than just doing the chores and then being able to enjoy my free time.
So Paul says, just live ready and be able to greet Jesus with joy, rather than terror, when he comes. Because you are children of light. You are the people who understand the hope that Jesus brings. You are ones who have a peek at the end of the story where Jesus defeats death. You know Jesus’ way of life and ways of love. So you are children of light who know how to live.
So don’t wait to live like that. Don’t live in fear of the garage door or of Jesus returning. Don’t fear the Lord coming in the night like a thief. Just do the things now, while you have a chance. Feed your neighbors. Remind people that God is holding them up and this world up. Forgive others and be gentle to them. Bring healing to relationships. Speak against the powers of evil. Give away more than makes sense. Live like the children of light you are.
Not so that God will love you more. That’s not possible. Just like my mom never loved me more for finishing the chores. But so that you may live Jesus’ way of love now and be ready to greet him when he comes.
But it’s not going to be easy, Paul says. So you’re going to need to do more than try really hard to stay awake and stay vigilant. Because that’s a recipe for failure, as anyone who has tried to stay awake reading a college textbook with too little sleep knows. So you’re going to need help. It’s a battle out there trying to stay focused on living out the love and justice and hope of Jesus on the world. So put on your armor!
So, besides our masks, Paul says, we should clothe ourselves with the "breastplate of faith and love.” Cover your heart with the gift of my love, so you will always be reminded of your beginning and your end and your ultimate home. When the world tempts you to anger and hatred and jealousy, guard yourself in my love. And let your trust in Jesus and his vision of the future protect you when you look into the darkness of the world and get discouraged. Let your trust in Jesus’ way of love guard your heart when it’s tempted to run after power or money or popularity.
And once you have that breastplate in place, you need something for you head. So put on the helmet of hope. Arm yourself with the hope of God’s saving power to protect your minds and imaginations against feeling nothing really matters at all in the world. Hold onto the stories of Jesus’ healings to believe again what is possible. Arm your mind with the stories you have known in your own life where life has come out of death and hope out of despair. Let the songs of joy that God brings rattle around in your head to protect yourself from the noisy world that tempts us to distract us.
And when you’re all suited up, then just go back into the world and keep up the work of Jesus. caring for the poor, visiting those in prison, forgiving those who mess up, giving away our money, welcoming those who are lonely or ignored. We do that by speaking the love of God for all people holding onto hope in God’s future for the sake of our neighbors. Do it all while we have the chance.
They are good words from Paul, but I have been thinking all week that I really did have a suit of armor lying around home. Because I feel like I’m drowning in words these days and I need something tangible to touch. I really need a physical reminder of God with me- the same way we may long for the gift of Holy Communion when it’s healthy for us to be around the table or long to dip our fingers in the baptismal waters. Sometimes we need something physical to remind us.
So, if you unless you have a suit of armor lying around home, perhaps a simple sign can be helpful. I’ve found 2 habits that I barely even noticed before have been helpful for me in thinking about this armor this week. When I find my heart overwhelmed with worry, I have a habit of putting my hand on my heart. It helps me center myself. And after some breaths, it also tends to turn me to prayer and allows me to be refocused on my task. Maybe a gesture like this can be a symbol for you. Try it this week before you begin your day as a reminder of the breastplate of faith and love that God gives us. That breastplate that can keep our hearts from being overwhelmed by worry or anger.
And when I am despairing- usually because I have messed up at something that I’m embarrassed about- I will sometimes make the sign of the cross on my forehead and remember that I am called a beloved child of God even if I don’t feel like it at all. Maybe this gesture can remind us of our helmet of hope- that armor that can guard our minds against despair- with ourselves and with the world. A helmet that can help us see again with God’s imagination what is possible in ourselves and in the world.
These are tiny actions and they don’t mean anything in and of themselves. But perhaps they can remind us of the love of God that grounds our lives and the hope of God’s future that gives us strength to keep caring for our neighbors and those who are vulnerable. Perhaps it will remind us of our names- children of the light and servants of God. So we can stay vigilant.
And Paul says, the armor, just like our masks, aren’t just to protect us. It’s also so that we can support others. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, he says. When our hope and faith and love are renewed, then we get to steady the next person.
I’ve been wearing this boot on my broken foot for 5 weeks. And I’ve become very well aware that I can’t do all the things by myself. Because I’m wobbly and I need someone to steady me. And frankly, I don’t think it’s just me. I think we’re all a little wobbly after the year we’ve been living through.
So we, children of light, are called to put on our armor and live and love vigilantly, so we can strengthen and steady a wobbly world.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 9, 2020 at 10:25 AM|
After a week spent impatiently refreshing web pages to see when we would have an answer about our election, it a little funny to hear this parable form Jesus this morning, where he tell us to get ready for a long wait in the darkness!
Because waiting is something we don't do all that well- as American or as humans in general. Because waiting is hard. Well, maybe not too hard at the beginning. When you start waiting for anything, it’s exciting. There’s so much too look forward to and you’re counting down and are ready to spring into action when the day arrives. You get prepared and wait like those 10 bridesmaids who come with joy with their lamps lit.
But then an hour passes. You get a little irritated. And start looking at your phone or your watch. You worry a little that something bad happened or you just get angry that this is taking so long.
And then an hour turns into two or three. You have to use the bathroom. You’re hungry and thirsty because you’ve already used up all your snacks. And then it gets dark. And maybe you stop worrying about being prepared, because who cares anymore. You may fall asleep, like all 10 of the bridesmaids did. But you definitely start to wonder whether the groom is still coming. Because when its dark and the waiting is long, we start to trust the darkness more than the One we’re waiting for.
And then, the groom comes. And some of the bridesmaids aren’t ready. So they run to get oil and miss Jesus when he comes. And I’m not sure what to do with that- with those foolish bridesmaids getting left out of the party. I don’t think that this parable overrides the desperate love that Jesus has for all of us who mess up. I can’t believe we are going to be shut out of heaven for running out of oil and not being prepared as well as we should have. But maybe it’s a little closer to what one of my students heard when she went to her first AA meeting a few years ago.
Someone told her, “You can come here week after week for 10 years and sit here and we’ll love you and welcome you. But if you want to recover, you have to work the steps.” Pretty much, you need to take an active part in your own recovery if you’re going to enjoy a life where addiction doesn’t control you. And even then it will be something you recommit to every day.
So perhaps Jesus is saying- you can still be a beloved bridesmaid no matter what, but the truth is that each of you need to do your own work of following me, your own work of keeping your lamps lit and no one else can do that for you. You need to get yourself ready.
Now, as someone who feels like I’m always unprepared, this worries me a little. Perhaps like some of you, I always feel like I’m just shy of being ready for what life throws at me and one step behind everything that I need to do. So when I read a parable that pretty much says to live my life prepared or else, I feel overwhelmed. And a little afraid of getting the door shut in the my face.
But this parable isn’t about fear- it’s actually about encouragement, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. It’s not meant to overwhelm us, but to focus us. Jesus isn’t saying that we need to live ready for everything. Instead it tells us that we just need to be ready for one thing- the future Jesus is bringing. To keep our lamps filled and burning to welcome that day.
And we do that by doing the work that Jesus began- caring for the poor, visiting those in prison, forgiving those who mess up, giving away our money, welcoming those who are lonely or ignored. We do that by And it speaking the love of God for all people holding onto hope in God’s future for the sake of our neighbors.
Now, that may not be a list of things you would put as most important in your life. It may not be a list of what leads to fulfillment and happiness for you all the time. But this morning, Jesus says this is the work we are to be about while we have the chance. This is what leads to life and to wisdom and to joy. This is how we get ready for the feast and keep our lamps lit.
That may seem overwhelming, but the grace in it is that while we do this, we don’t need to be ready for everything else that the world tells you to! We only have so much energy and so much time to do things. It’s a little like when someone brings a new baby home. Suddenly you don’t worry about looking your best or cleaning the house perfectly or watching the TV programs you like. You are single-mindedly focused on one thing- caring for this little one- so you start to realize what is of importance. And other things may not get done. And that’s ok. Because the most important thing is all that matters.
Jesus is telling us to live like his coming to set the world right- is all we really need to get ready for. What would your life look like if that were the case? What in life would you stop doing? What things seem trivial and unimportant when your focus is on living out Jesus’ way of life? What are those things that take your attention away from Jesus’ hope for the world or make you give up on it? And what things- that may even be good things- simply aren’t as important when getting ready for Jesus to come in your first goal?
Perhaps these are things that might need to be left behind so that we can be waiting with oil ready when the bridegroom appears. Because, Jesus says, the wait in the darkness is going to be awhile. So prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Which I think we’ve gotten a little used to in this pandemic.
Back in March, we may have had grand plans about taking on new hobbies or projects in our homes. Maybe we baked bread or started to exercise or set up ambitious schedules for ourselves. But then the pandemic just kept going.
And we’ve realized that we can’t keep it all up. So now, as the new wave of the virus comes now and new restrictions are likely to happen, perhaps we will be wiser. Maybe we have learned that we need to only focus on the most important things to be prepared- caring for family, looking out for neighbors, providing for those who are vulnerable, and doing the few things that keep our hearts and minds centered in God’s hope. We need to keep these at the center of our lives. And let a whole lot of things go.
That’s what Jesus is saying this morning. Just focus on the most important things. Bring healing to others in word and deed and share what you have. Speak and make peace in your family and your community. Forgive relentlessly and be willing to speak about God’s love and justice and hope for this world. Just focus on that. Not all the other things fighting for your attention. And I promise, I’ll be back to finish the work I have begun in you.
As you’re waiting for me to set the world right, Jesus says, wait with hope and keep your lamps lit. Trust that the darkness you’re waiting in isn’t stronger than the One who is coming. So encourage each other with my hope when you’re weary. When others are distracted by the long wait and the dark night, show your neighbors where to get oil so they can live ready, too. And keep coming to this community- however we may gather in the months to come- to pray for strength and courage for each other when the darkness is too much.
Because Jesus is coming to heal all that is broken and restore all that has been diminished and fill up all that is empty. And he invites us to be about that work now, to be about God’s work with courage, to keep our lamps lit, so we’ll be ready to dance in the feast that will have no end.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 3, 2020 at 12:00 AM|
Blessed All Saints Day! It’s a little different this year, but at least we still get to joyfully remember those who rest in God. We’ll miss our traditions. I’ll miss them, too. For the past 8 years, All Saints Day has meant gathering at the table with my students. If we could gather in person this year, we’d be setting out the tablecloth that we’ve been adding names to for the past 8 years- the names of those we have loved who have died in the faith. And we’d light our battery-operated, campus approved candles. And we’d tell stories of those we had loved. And we’d eat together as family with them and remember the resurrection promise given to all of us. Because it’s a joy to know that in the family of Christ, we are knit together and still connected to those we have loved who have gone before us.
And I love that part of All Saints. And yet, this year, right before Election Day, I have been drawn to another aspect of All Saints. This year, when fear and division feel like they are taking over. When we have no idea what the future looks like. When folks on both sides of the aisle feel like the world as we know it will end with this election.
This All Saints Day, I’m remembering for the reason that All Saints was created. It was created to honor all those who had been courageous in following Jesus who didn’t have individual days to honor them. So that these “ordinary saints” would not be forgotten and that their witness could continue to strengthen us. So I’m deeply grateful this year for the opportunity to be connected to the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. To remember that God has bound us together with those followers of Jesus that we have never met and whose lives utterly amaze us.
You know- the folks who saw that new life in Jesus so clearly that they risked their lives to follow. Who clung to their trust in Jesus even when it meant persecution. Saints who were willing to choose peace in the midst of violence for the sake of following in Jesus’ footsteps. Or those who devoted themselves to lives of prayer and guided others in the faith. The folks who spoke the unpopular truth about sin and evil and were killed for it. And those who chose forgiveness and mercy toward their neighbors rather than keeping themselves safe in order to witness to the way of Christ.
Folks like Dirk Wilhelm, a Mennonite in the 16th century who was imprisoned for his faith and awaiting execution. As he was escaping from prison, he crossed a frozen pond and the guard chasing him fell in. And Dirk returned to help the guard, following Jesus’ call to love his enemies. And the guard took him back to prison where he faced death.
Or folks like Dorothy Day who was so convicted by Jesus’ call to care for the vulnerable that she spent her life welcoming the poor in hospitality houses and advocating for those in poverty.
Or folks like Brother Juniper, a monk in the 13th century who gave what he had to anyone who begged and who finally had to be commanded by his superiors to stop giving away all his clothes!
This year especially, I’m grateful to remember that people like this were a part of the world and that by the grace of Jesus, they are family to me, to us! That they are OUR heritage, our history, OUR great tradition of what it looks like to follow Jesus in this life.
With all that is broken in our own world- today we get to look back and see the beauty of a life lived in the love of God. And we get to learn from a community that has walked through darker times than these by the light of Christ. And we get to let them hold a candle for us to point the way ahead.
All Saints Day lets us sit a moment among those who have made it through the great ordeal. Through times when everything was falling apart. We get to gather with these courageous siblings in the faith who now sit at the feet of Jesus. And we get to see them, just like that vision we heard from Revelation, sing praise to God continually because their songs of sorrow are finally dried up. We get to hear their songs of hope and love so that we’ll have the strength to try again to reach for righteousness and peace and mercy like they did.
But it’s not just the songs of our ancestors in the faith we hear today. This morning we also hear the song that Jesus sings to us in perhaps our more ordinary lives of trying to follow. “Blessed are the merciful, he says. Blessed are the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. I see your work in following after me and I rejoice in it. Even when there’s too much wrong, and too much broken and too little hope. Even when our work doesn’t seem to be enough, Jesus says, following my way of life matters. I see you, Jesus says, and the work you try to do and the love you seek to show. And truly, you are blessed are you when you walk in my way.
In the moments when we try to give what we have away so that others can have enough, God rejoices, even though everything isn’t fixed. When we risk including someone who makes us uncomfortable, or call for justice for our neighbor or when we risk working for peace when it makes us unsafe, Jesus says, “You are blessed in your work, because it is my work you’re doing.
When nothing seems stable around us, we get the blessing of knowing that feeding our neighbor and protecting them in the storm matter, even if it doesn’t seem like enough. We get to hear that holding onto hope for our neighbors when they are too weak to do it themselves matters. And that a life of peacemaking and mercy and eagerly reaching toward righteousness is seen and blessed by God. And that even our effort to see the best in others- to remain open hearted and kind to our neighbors who drive us nuts- is noticed and blessed by God. For the pure in heart shall get the gift of seeing God’s goodness.
Our work of following Jesus matters. Even if the world seems to be falling down. And not just that, people of God. It’s not just our work that is blessed and seen. It is also our weakness. Jesus promises that our suffering- that may seem so small and pointless- or may seem endless and hopeless- is bound up in the healing that is Jesus’ love. And that our mourning will end in the comfort and hope of God. And that the kingdom of heaven- the place where God is in charge- is the inheritance of all those who are weary and despairing right now. One day we will take our place in that great gathering at Jesus’ feet when our songs of sorrow are swallowed up in love.
So, beloved people of God, before the rest of this week, we get to take a moment to breathe. And to sit down with our family in faith- from all times and places- to be encouraged by their witness. To remember the beauty of following Jesus even in dark days.
And we get to take a moment to glimpse what will be in God’s future- a place where hunger and weeping are swallowed up in love. We take this moment to stop and hear the songs of the saints so that we can face these days with confidence and hope. Not hope in an election- but hope and trust in a God who holds us.
A God who blesses our acts of mercy and work of peace-making, and our loving humility. A God who blesses us in our mourning and grief and worry. Our God who strengthens us for the journey ahead. And our God who joined us to a great family of faith who will continue to embody forgiveness and mercy and truth as we run the race that finds its end in the love of God.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 21, 2020 at 1:50 PM|
“Is it lawful to pay taxes or not?” the religious leaders come asking. Because in Jesus’ day, this kind of question made you take sides and the leaders were trying to ask trick him into saying something that would get him hated by one group of people or the other.
You see, this tax was an annual reminder for the Jewish people that they were ruled by the occupying Romans and every coin they gave supported a regime that oppressed them. And the only way to pay the tax was with a Roman coin with Caesar’s face on it that proclaimed him son of a god. So their question about taxes was not only a question about supporting an occupying force that they disagree with, but it’s also a religious question about whether paying this tax to Caesar was denying the only true God.
It was one of those questions with no perfect answer and yet one that defined who you were- either one of the resisters who is going to mess up this uneasy peace with have with the Romans or one of the taxpayers who ignores God’s laws when it’s hard. This morning the leaders come to make Jesus choose sides. Sound familiar this election season?
But thankfully Jesus isn’t partisan and has this habit of refusing to get trapped by the categories that we create and the boxes we try to put him in. He refuses to take one of two choices and so often finds a third way. The way that gets past our prejudices and our polarizing thinking and points us back to God.
So Jesus asks the Pharisees for a coin and says, “whose inscription is on it? Whose face?” “The emperor’s,” the Pharisees say. Then, Jesus says, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's.”
The coin is marked with the face of Caesar, Jesus says. That is how you know whose it is. But look at your reflection and see that you are marked with the face of God. That is whose YOU are. That is first and foremost. In the early moments of creation, God proclaimed, “Let us make humankind in our image.” And we were all imprinted with the seal of God again in our baptisms. So whether we like it or not, we are God’s. We do not belong to anything or anyone else.
So, as God’s own, how do we actually “give to God what is God’s?” It means we give all we have to the work of God- the work of forgiving and reconciling and bringing peace and caring for life. It means serving your neighbor more times than we think we should instead of finding a reason why we don’t have to. It means praying in the morning and the night even if we don’t know what good it will actually do. It means daring to give money away to those in need and to the work of the gospel constantly and joyfully instead of debating whether the other person really deserves it.
That is what the early church did. They risked believing that all they were and all they had were God’s. They gave to God what was God’s, even to the point of death. They shared all their money, they preached the gospel where it wasn’t popular, they served others when they were tired. And people were so amazed by how they lived that they flocked to them. The early church had a courage that we often don’t. They risked living like Jesus called them to.
If we had the courage to live like that- if we continually supported each other in such things, I have a hunch that we wouldn’t have the same questions about life that we do now. I know that in the moments when I have been caught up in the joy and challenge of living out the gospel, I have a whole lot less time to get caught up in questions that paralyze us into inaction. I’ve found that when I focus on giving who I am to God first and foremost, a lot of other questions fall into place. That’s what Jesus is reminding us this morning.
But it’s not fair to leave the question of taxes unanswered. Because taxes are a mixed blessing. They go toward good stuff like rebuilding places that have been destroyed by natural disasters. And paying for healthcare for seniors and those living in poverty. They pay for courts that seek, even if they don’t always achieve, justice. These are things that our God tells us to be about. But our taxes also support things that stand against who God calls us to be in the world. So there are no easy answers.
And yet, if Jesus’ life is any indication, we’re called to live primarily within the bounds of government. Jesus turned over the tables of those wielding power a few times and relentlessly called them to remember justice, but he didn’t overthrow the ruling powers. He simply refused to give his allegiance to them or place his trust in them. He refused to let them define who we was or keep him from living out God’s call. And he refused to stay silent when the government ignored God’s intention for the world.
Jesus seems to be saying that we have responsibilities in this world, including responsibilities to the government like paying taxes and advocating in the political process for the sake of our neighbors. So, Jesus says, do what is necessary to protect your neighbor and keep some order for the common good, even if it’s far from perfect. Give to the government what is the government’s, but don’t dare mess around with the things that belong to God. Don’t be willing to give to the government or any political party your complete loyalty or your full trust. Don’t let them define your hope or your vision. Don’t give them your whole self.
Because we are made in God’s image, defined by God’s hope and love and we will always be God’s- 100% completely. That is the joy and treasure that we get to know for all of our days. And we are called to give to God what is God’s. To dare to walk in the way God created for us- a way that reflects to the world the love that we were created in. And to dare to entrust all we are and all we have to the only one who is faithful enough to care for it.
|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 14, 2020 at 1:35 PM|
When is enough finally, enough, Jesus? That’s what Peter’s asking this morning. Fresh off hearing how we’re invited to confront our siblings in Christ when they have harmed us and welcome they back if they change their ways, Peter says what some of us were thinking.
So Jesus, um, some people mess up A LOT. They keep doing the same stupid thing over and over. And they don’t get any better. It’s exhausting and it hurts people and it makes the church look bad. Not to mention, welcoming them back over and over doesn’t seem really fair to people who make good choices most of the time. So when is it all enough? When can we stop accepting them back? How about seven mistakes? That seems pretty reasonable- even generous.
But it’s not enough, Jesus says. How about seventy times seven! Being reasonable is not enough when it comes to forgiveness. When you’re dealing with your siblings in the faith, forgive so many times that you lose count. Forgive so much that people around you start thinking you don’t know what you’re doing. Then forgive some more. I tell you, you don’t ever get to write someone of as a lost cause. You don’t ever get to stop forgiving.
Now let me tell you a story, Jesus says (which is what he always seems to do when he’s telling us something hard to take in!) So there was once a head servant, Jesus says, who owes his master more money than he can ever repay- think like 100 years of paychecks. Now it’s time to settle up and the servant can only pray for a miracle. He can only plead for mercy from the king because he can’t get out of this mess any other way. And this king looks at the debt that was owed and he looked in love at the face of his servant. And in an act of mercy too extravagant to make sense, he forgave the debt.
It was amazing! That head servant was set free. But instead of letting the king’s extravagant generosity overwhelm him, instead of letting this mercy teach him how to live, that first servant goes right out and finds someone who owes HIM a little bit of money. And he throws that guy in prison until he can pay the debt.
And the master is horrified. Horrified that the head servant learned nothing by his extravagant mercy. So that master reinstates the debt and tortures the servant.
Now, I don’t believe that God will torture us when we fail to forgive others or when we try and just aren’t able to yet, but parables tend to use exaggeration to make a point. Jesus wants the disciples to understand how incredibly seriously God takes forgiveness. This is my command, Jesus says. It isn’t optional! You are entrusted by God with the gift of forgiveness so that you can release others, not so that you can withhold it to purposely make them suffer.
Because, Jesus says, my forgiveness is supposed to fundamentally change how you live in the world and how you encounter others who are hurting like we are. Forgiveness is supposed to re-make us in the image of the loving God we serve. And that God is both relentless in upholding justice, and merciful beyond measure when it comes to setting people free.
Because forgiveness is meant to do both. Too often we think that forgiveness means tolerating the bad things people do and saying everything is ok. But that’s just ignoring something. Forgiveness forces us to take evil and sin seriously first- to call a thing what it is. Just like the king acknowledged the debt of the servant and made him look it square in the face.
But forgiveness also means taking the life of your neighbor even more seriously. It doesn’t mean being soft on sin, but it means valuing the life of your neighbor so highly that you are willing to release them from the burden of your anger so that they may have life.
When our sibling in Christ sins- or even when they participate in systems that harm others- we need to say that what was done was not right. It was not what God intended. And we will still need to take action to restrain those who do evil to keep them from harming others. We may need to force those who have done evil to fix what is in their power to fix.
But in all this, we are commanded to love those who have harmed us so much that we pray and work for their turning around, for their health. Jesus says- look on your neighbor with the love that I looked on my servant who had too much to forgive. And see their life more than their sins. Pray that they will be restored the person to who God intended them to be. Don’t do it because it makes sense, do it because I have made you to be people who forgive as you’ve been forgiven, people who love like you’ve been loved. And do it together as a community.
This is not easy and it’s not supposed to be. This is not our regular way as people- but it is God’s way. And as much as I’ve read Scripture, God’s way always seems to make things harder and less like our gut tells us to react. But God’s way is also the way that rescues us and our fellow servants of God from the pain we cause each other. It’s the way that helps us live again in freedom and love. So being people of forgiveness is simply who Jesus made us to be.
But we don’t have to do it from our own strength. And thanks be to God, because we probably know how well that turns out! When forgiveness is hard, the only hope we have is to accept the gift that God gave us first. And perhaps that is the hardest step for some of us. To know that truly, our God loves us beyond our failures. By the cross- and by the love that led him to the cross- Jesus set us free from those mistakes that we can never undo and those debts to others that we have no hope of ever repaying. Jesus values our life and our future so much that he releases us from those things that we can’t release ourselves. Not because those things weren’t wrong, but because Jesus doesn’t want them to define who we will be or what we will do.
And when we cannot trust this forgiveness- when it can’t become real in our souls and our lives, Jesus draws us to worship, to be with our community in whatever way the season allows, so we can admit our failings and hear forgiveness pronounced for us. To hear the pastor tell us, “Cling to this promise: the word of forgiveness I speak to you comes from God. In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” Here Jesus tells us that our lives are always more important than our mistakes.
He sets us free from the burden of what we have done so that we can be changed. So that we can live our lives so rooted in the forgiveness we receive so that we recognize the same need in others. And responded with mercy. So that, together with the whole Christian community, we may be people who reflect the extravagant forgiveness of our God. For the sake of our neighbor and for the sake of our world.
|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 7, 2020 at 3:20 PM|
Owe no one anything, except to love one another. That’s what the apostle Paul says in the book of Romans this morning. This is the whole law summed up. In a world full of laws and obligations, we followers of Jesus have just one responsibility to each other. Just love.
Which seems too simple, doesn’t it? I mean, we have a whole Bible full of stories and laws. We have all those confusing parables Jesus tells. And the only thing we need to know about how to relate to the folks around us is just to love one another? And frankly, it seems like it would make a preacher’s job pretty easy, to just stand up here every week and say, “Love one another.”
But that’s what Paul says- we’re all under the same obligation- from those with the most power and advantages to those with the least. Simply to love one another. This is our only law, the only guide for our living together as siblings in Christ. This is all we need to follow.
(Well, and a few more. In the verses right before this gospel lesson, Paul just got done saying that we still need to obey the rules of our country and our jobs- at least the ones that are just- because there are some things that we simply need to do for good order.)
But, Paul says that in a world where we too often get weighed down by worrying about what we need to do to stay on someone’s good side or what we need to do to pay someone back for their kindness or what we have to do to be well thought of, Paul says, “Don’t exhaust yourself with that stuff. Just love on another. That’s it. That’s all you need to worry about.”
Owe no one anything, except to love one another. It’s simple and freeing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Instead of just staying within the lines and obeying the rules and playing it safe, Paul reminds us that a life of following Jesus means risking love. It means going beyond what we HAVE to do to avoid trouble and instead doing what love requires. It means ignoring what the world tells us we MUST do to get ahead or be well thought of or to stay safe in order to love our neighbor in whatever way the situation calls for.
And when Paul talks about love, he’s not talking about some sentimental feeling. He doesn’t tell us we always have to FEEL love for folks and agree with them and think everyone is just delightful. We’re never going to be that good. Any of us. We just need to do the loving thing to our neighbor, even when we don’t feel like it at all.
And sometimes those actions are pretty obvious. If your neighbor doesn’t have food, you share hat you can. If they’ve tripped over something, you help them up. If they are grieving, you offer a kind word. If they are vulnerable to disease, you wear a mask. These are the simple things- even if aren’t always easy or what we want to do.
But love isn’t always simple. Because being loving doesn’t always mean doing the nice thing. To persons who are addicted, love doesn’t look like giving them what they crave. To those who are abusing others, love doesn’t look like turning a blind eye to it. So love doesn’t always mean doing the thing that avoids trouble. And it doesn’t always mean doing what the other person wants. Loving our neighbor does mean consistently doing the things that bring life, health and hope to the other person.
Over and over again. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when they don’t care.
It means refusing to return violence for violence- in words or actions. It means spending some time with people who are hard to love rather than ignoring them. It means listening to those who are lonely, sharing food with those who are hungry, and being patient with those who drive you nuts. It means speaking well of others, even behind their backs.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another, Paul says. With a love that takes the needs of our neighbors seriously. A love that refuses to stop loving, even if it has to go through trouble. Love with a love that looks like Jesus. And a love that helps us understand the love of Jesus for us every time we manage to live it out.
And our gospel lesson gives us another example of what it means to love our neighbor as a community of folks who follow Jesus. Especially when one of us has hurt our neighbor. Because love doesn’t mean we have to ignore the stuff that harms us and harms others. That’s not love- that’s just avoiding stuff we don’t want to deal with.
So, Jesus says, when someone harms you, you need to tell them. Even if they didn’t mean to do what they did. Even if they didn’t even know that what they were doing was wrong. When you’ve been hurt, you get to speak that to your neighbor. (But I also want to say that this isn’t telling us that we need to confront people about things if it’s not safe for us to do so. In cases of abuse or violence, we may need to find another way to confront the issue.)
But when we tell our neighbor how they have harmed us, even then the law of love applies. We don’t get to tell our neighbor in order to rub their face in it. Or to humiliate them. Or to make them pay for what they did wrong (although there may in fact be some things your neighbor needs to do to make things right.)
If we are to owe love to our neighbor, then when we point out how our neighbor has harmed us, the goal is always so that we can seek reconciliation and change, not to hurt or humiliate the other. And man that’s hard to do. Especially when we’ve been cheated or lied to or betrayed. It doesn’t come any more easily to pastors, either. Loving our neighbor isn’t exactly our first thought. Or our second or third. Owe no one anything but love, Paul says. Even when they’ve been horrible to you.
And maybe just as challenging, when we have been the ones who have messed up, Jesus reminds us that loving our neighbor looks like listening to them. To do the hard thing of hearing what our sibling in Christ is saying to us about our own actions or the systems we participate in and how they harm others. Especially in places where we are in the majority or have more power, we are called to listen. This is what we owe our neighbor in love. To hear what life looks like from where they are standing and hear how we have made it harder.
And this is never easy. Because I doubt there’s a single person here who likes being told that they messed up. Or who likes hearing that we’ve hurt someone. Because we generally DON’T want to harm our neighbor. We want to do the right things. And when we realize we didn’t- because we were tired, or angry, or careless or because we didn’t know any better, we don’t always react well. Sometimes we assume the other is lying or wrong. Or we say it wasn’t our fault. Or we just stop listening all together.
But, Jesus says, open your ears. Listen to the witness of your neighbor. Hear their hurt. And then listen to me. I love you. You may have messed up or been a part of things that weren’t right, but you’re still my beloved one. And you will continue to be. So trust that love. That love that went through death for you. It’s big enough to hold you.
So now, trust that love enough to be willing to love this neighbor like I love you. Love your neighbor that you hurt as beautifully and powerfully as I love you. And then do what you can to repair what’s broken. Because that’s what love looks like in action.
And in the end, in that great day that Jesus is bringing, there will only be love. All that is broken will be healed, all that is wrong will be set right. So Paul invites us to live into that reality now. To live out the hope of God, to live in the way of Jesus. Not because we will win or get ahead by it. But because it is the way of Jesus. The way that we get to walk with him. The way that leads to life.
As the great Christian advocate for those in poverty, Dorothy Day, said, “Love is indeed a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, of each of us, but it is the only answer. . . “