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Does what we do matter? A sermon on trying to be a sheep

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 27, 2017 at 11:55 AM

A sermon on Matthew 25:31-46

Christ is King! This is our proclamation today- to the world and probably more even more so to ourselves and our brothers and sisters sitting with us. Jesus is the only true ruler of our lives. And in the world. When the politics in our own country sadden us and anger us and cause us to despair some days. When we see extremist groups attacking and killing in mosques and in markets. When the rich get richer while those without money suffer. It is a blessed thing and a hopeful thing to get to come here to say together with the whole church, “Jesus is king.”

We profess- even when we can barely believe it- even when it is against our better judgment- that the powers of this world are not more powerful than the One we trust our lives to. Jesus reigns over all the powers in the world- corrects, judges and is greater than them all. And we proclaim that our hope lies in this Jesus who governs with justice and with a grace beyond what we are capable of.

And if Jesus is king, that our ultimate allegiance- beyond political party or national identity or even family connections, lies with him. He is the one that deserves our respect. He is the one that sets the laws that govern our life. He is the one that can command our obedience. And no other power has that right, no matter how honorable it might seem.

And that is reason to rejoice. But then we hear about what it means for Jesus to be our king and the kind of rules he sets for the kingdom we are invited into. And it’s not surprising that those who will be counted as great are those who have served King Jesus. What is surprising is that Jesus tells us the astounding reality that each of us can do this- serve the very person of Jesus- every time we care for those who are hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned.

Your respect for and care for and those who are suffering is as important as the words you pray to me in holy places. It’s as important as the time spent studying my word. (Both are a part of a life of following Jesus.) It’s as important as the time spent working and caring for your family. Because this is what it means to be a subject in my kingdom.

And it doesn’t mean just doing the easy stuff. It means loving the hardest to love. The prisoners who have done things that you don’t want to forgive. The hungry who are ungrateful. The sick who are belligerent and who are sick because of their own choices. The sick who have diseases you could catch.

But Jesus also says that when you love the ones who are least in Jesus’ family- and I would extend that to the ones you call least- you will be blessed. And that means loving our Christian brothers and sisters who we disagree with on everything but Jesus. Loving those on the other side of the political fence. Loving those who think we’re too liberal. Loving those who would even speak against us. These ones are my children. Children that may be hard to love. But when you love them, you love me.

And that means that our deeds matter. When so much of our trying to help doesn’t change situations fast enough or even at all, we need to know that our helping was not futile. When we visit the person suffering from Alzheimer’s who doesn’t even know who we are and it seems like a waste of time. When the sick person we pray for and visit and support just gets sicker. In those frustrating moments, it is a blessing to know that that our moments of serving are part of our worship and Jesus sees them and rejoices that we are living into the kingdom he brings.

Love people in need- those who are sick, those who spend their lives in prison like our brothers and sisters in the Community of St. Dysmas, and those who are hungry and begging. This is how you love Jesus. If the parable ended there, it would be hard, but good. But then there’s that part about judgment. And this is the third week in a row we’ve heard about judgment! There have been bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil, servants who didn’t invest their talents and now nations and peoples who don’t serve others when they had the chance and they keep ending up in the darkness after being thrown out or shut out.

And that probably makes some of us uneasy. We don’t quite know what to do with our Jesus throwing people that didn’t seem to do things so terribly wrong into the darkness. Because we don’t know what that means for our brothers and sisters or for us! And I have to tell you, I don’t know completely. I do not fully understand God’s judgment in light of this Jesus who went to the cross to rescue us.

But what I do know is reality. I do know the truth that living apart from Jesus means living apart from his unexplainably beautiful love. It means living away from the hope that there is forgiveness beyond our mistakes and hope for the future. And to not live in this love is punishment.

And Jesus says- when you refuse to love the people that I love, you live apart from me. You set yourself outside the goodness of my love. You live outside my kingdom and refuse to be my beloved, peculiar people in the world. You refuse to live as if I am actually in charge of your life. And then you live your life without me as your king. And will put your trust in things that will disappoint you. And that is punishment in this life and in the next.

So I can’t believe that this parable is saying what so many in our world assume- good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. It’s not that easy when Jesus and his annoying tendency to love people is involved. But it is telling us that there are consequences to how we live. And they are not always seen in the moments when we choose convenience or safety over the life of our brothers and sisters in need. But every time we ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters, these choices take us farther away from the heart of God. And every time we miss the opportunity to see Jesus, to care for Jesus, to trust Jesus’ ways as our very life and hope.

And yet, after all those beautiful words about God’s kingdom, I bet we’re still wondering, are we a sheep are or are we a goat? Are we the ones that are welcomed in to the joy of God or are we the ones who are sent away because of our actions? We’ve probably been reviewing our past few weeks in our head during much of the sermon. So, how does the sorting work? Do we get welcomed in because of one moment of caring or do we get kicked out because of one moment of non-caring? Are those of us who always try to care for others going to be put among the goats because of the one time we were too distracted or too grumpy to help? And are those who are always rude and unfeeling, going to be welcomed into life with God because of one kind act? Which side are we on? The parable makes us uneasy.

And I think that’s part of what this parable is supposed to do- convict us when we have ignored those who need our help, whether we were too scared, too busy or too self-righteous. It makes us a little nervous of how God will look at us because of how we have acted. It makes us grieve over the times we have failed to care for Jesus in his bodies on earth. And Jesus reminds us that the privilege and responsibility of caring for him doesn’t end. The opportunity to glimpse his presence in the faces of those that need our care is always nearby. It keeps us constantly on alert to care for Jesus in the flesh of others.


And it reminds us that we get the no matter which side we feel we’re on- sheep or goat- we stand before the throne of Jesus, our king. We stand before the one who loves us and shows us the good ways to live in his kingdom. And, all of us who call Jesus king- or who TRY to call Jesus king- have the command to serve all our neighbors. Especially those most in need. These are the rules of the kingdom we are invited into.

They are hard rules, but what joy to find our life in this kingdom where those who are weaker are treasured as much as the strong and those who have failed are forgiven and given new chances. It’s a kingdom where love conquers hatred and where healing springs up in unexpected places. This is the kingdom of our God, the kingdom that we get to live into, where the rule is always one of merciful love. For us and for our neighbor.

So as ones who will stand before the throne of our King Jesus, as those who wish to be found among those sheep welcomed into his joy, we spend our lives trying to love like crazy. We live constantly attentive to the needs of those who suffer and those who have less than we do. We go beyond what is comfortable and safe for the sake of our neighbors. And when we cannot do everything, we trust the mercy of Jesus. We rely on the one whom we meet in the faces of those we serve.

Jesus leads us out of abuse and the places that trap us

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on May 9, 2017 at 12:15 AM

John 10:1-10

1 Peter 2:19-25


It’s Good Shepherd Sunday- a time when pastors talk about Jesus’ desire to protect and lead us in this life. To call us back when we’re going astray and keep us on the pathways that lead to life. The one who carries us on his shoulders when we have been beat up by the world. It’s a nice thing to get to preach on, a comforting reality. And I’ve got a great story about how stupid sheep can be and how I, as a 21-year old with no livestock experience, had to rescue a sheep stuck in a fence in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. But as much as that would be fun, there’s been something getting in the way for me this week.


And it’s not anything going on in the world, although that is a place where we desperately need a Good Shepherd to guide us and protect us. This week it’s some words in our Bible that have been getting in the way- those words we hear from 1 Peter today. Because they have been used in horrible ways that betray the love of Jesus for all people.


Now, we try to sanitize them a bit by leaving off the first verse which says, “slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” This is who the passage is actually spoken to and we know the violence that was done with those words. We know they were used to encourage those who were imprisoned to be obedient and subservient in a system that was never God’s will for them. And I think the church knows better than to publicly speak words which have been used to justify evil toward our brothers and sisters.


But the words we hear this morning are not much better. Did you hear them?


For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.


And I will tell you that I struggle to read these words in my Bible, because they seem to justify abuse and encourage submission to it rather than resistance. And not to endure suffering for courageously following Jesus and taking the punishment that you knew would result. This passage encourages Christians to endure suffering that comes as a result of just living your life in a situation where you don’t have much power.


And although I can’t find anything that will explain away these words that seem to fly in the face of Jesus’ loving intentions for our lives, it has helped to understand the community to which Peter wrote this letter.


Peter lived in a society where Christians seemed suspicious and dangerous, subversive to the way things were. Their equality among themselves, their sharing with each other, their ultimate allegiance to God rather than the emperor- these are things that didn’t sit well with the world around them. So Christians were seen as a threat and the world would take any excuse to do away with these Jesus followers. So Peter is writing to a community of Christians struggling to survive and hold onto their true identity in Christ.


And it seems like that community was made up of mostly folks who weren’t the rich and powerful. Many of them were servants and they lived at a time where there wasn’t much of any chance of overturning the social order and staying alive at the same time. And if they, as a persecuted minority, tried to overturn the social structure, they were likely to be killed and the Christian community would be destroyed.


So, Peter was writing to try and encourage the church in the midst of the unjust world they lived in and help them continue to be the church and pass on the faith to future generations. Just before our passage, Peter reminds the church of the truth that they stand in- that they were a people made free in Christ. And they get to make a choice about how they will use that freedom- for good or for evil. So, in these in-between times, where they knew the equality and freedom of God’s kingdom but couldn’t live into it, Peter encourages the church to keep holding fast to faith in Jesus and following as best they’re able.


And that meant refusing to return abuse for abuse. It meant refusing to threaten or harm others when they treated them badly. It meant being loving even when evil was done to them. This is the way of Christ. And, as Peter says, by doing right when you have no earthly reason to, you might silence the ignorance of the foolish.


Peter wanted to give his church the power to do the one thing they could- choose to follow in the footsteps of Christ in a situation they couldn’t change. To use their good conduct to witness to Jesus and shame those who would treat them harshly. To resist the abuse by refusing to let it overtake their soul. And to identify their suffering with the suffering of Jesus to find enough strength to carry on. Because there are some moments where the only alternative is to endure.


And in those moments when we’re barely holding on, knowing that Jesus suffers beside us and has gone before us is a thing that saves us. But just because Jesus stands besides us doesn’t mean we stay stuck in abuse.


Because we are living in a different moment from Peter’s. We are privileged to be living in a moment where abuse is understood for what it is- utterly against God’s intention for anyone and something to be resisted rather than endured. Identifying our suffering with Jesus’ should never be a reason to stay trapped in a situation where God’s abundant, beautiful life is clouded out by abuse.


Because we have a Good Shepherd who is calling out to us by name. And that name is always beloved. Jesus calls out to us to remind us that we are treasured ones made with a purpose. Jesus calls out to those facing abuse and to all the rest of us who have forgotten our names. Who have gotten used to the names the world calls us. Who have gotten used to being named by the work we do, the work we fail to do or the times we have messed up. And hearing that name again is something I need to hear often.


Every night, my 5-year old and I bless each other by making the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads and saying, “Hannah, you are a beloved child of God.” “Mommy, you are a beloved child of God.” And, because my daughter has the gospel message deep in her soul, she asked us to add something to that. Now every night we also remind each other, “Mommy, Hannah, God loves you even when you make mistakes.” It is a blessed reminder to hear every night.


Because Jesus doesn’t just call to us to make us feel good. He calls us in order to lead us out. Out from the places where sheep get trapped or attacked. Out from the places where sheep are threatened. For those who are abused, that leading out sometimes happens through hands like ours- by recognizing and helping children, spouses and the elderly who are abused by those who profess to love them. Or when we advocate for migrant farm workers and others who are abused in their jobs.


And thanks be to God, Jesus also leads us out from the places where wayward sheep wander because they get distracted or want to go their own way. To lead us out from the things that attack us and into the green pastures and beside the still waters.


And Jesus leads us out by going before us. Like one who makes tracks in the snow for us to follow- to know exactly where to put our feet, to make the road easier for us and ensure that we won’t get lost. He leads us out by teaching us the good ways that lead to life.


By teaching us to forgive those who don’t deserve it. By teaching us welcome the stranger even when we fear them. By teaching us to love in the face of evil. And teaching us how to suffer, if we must, for the sake of working for justice and love for our brothers and sisters.



Jesus walks the road ahead of us- walking through the dangers before us so that he can be the one to bring us through. So that he can bring us to life abundant. And thanks be to God for that.


Walking the road to Emmaus with Jesus

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on May 2, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Luke 24:13-35

“We had hoped. . . “ That’s what the followers of Jesus said as they walked back to Emmaus. They were walking slowly- the way you do when you’ve got nothing to look forward to where you’re headed. We had hoped that this would turn out differently, they said to each other. And when a stranger starts to walk the road with them and asks them why their steps are so slow, these two say, “we bet all our hope on Jesus and we don’t know what to do next.”


We had hoped Jesus was the one that was going to save our people and overthrow the Roman government. We had hoped he was the one to bring change or at least bring some judgment on those who were making life miserable for us. We didn’t expect to be walking back from the place of his death with nothing to show for it. We had hoped that this wasn’t the end. But it’s been 3 days and Jesus isn’t coming back to us. He isn’t showing up. And we’re about done with this hope thing.


And I bet a lot of us know that same feeling. Some days we just don’t have the strength to hope anymore. Some days we’re walking back home after our loved one has died saying, “we had hoped that our prayers would be answered. That we would be rejoicing instead of crying.” We had hoped that we would find a job before the bills came due. We had hoped that justice would finally come rather than life continuing on as it always has.


And sometimes, as unholy as it sounds to us, we lose hope in Jesus showing up. Because we had hoped that following Jesus was going to suddenly make things different. Make it better. But we’re walking around with all the mess still in front of us. And we don’t have much trust that things are going to change. Because Jesus is great and that’s why we trusted him and followed him. But we don’t see him right here with us, right now, which is where we need him to be. We aren’t seeing the change that we hoped Jesus would bring. And there may be days when we just don’t have much strength to hold onto faith anymore.


Anybody know what that’s like? When we just stop thinking any good is coming to us. When we stop trying. We just start walking aimlessly back to our lives. Going through the motions. That’s right where these travelers are when a stranger comes along to walk the road with them. But instead of walking in their despair with them, he starts talking about Scripture. Making all those Scriptures that they scratched their head about make sense. (Wouldn’t you like that!) And making the Scriptures come alive- as if they were speaking right to the hearts of these two Jesus followers. This stranger spoke with words so powerful that he made the love and hope of God into something alive and active. Something that changed how they were walking. Something that spoke to their soul and revived them.


They were being changed on the road and they barely noticed when they actually got to where they were going. And then they didn’t want the moment to end, so they invited this stranger in for a meal, since it was getting dark. You’ve shared life with us on the road, they say. Come share a meal with us, now. And maybe you can keep sharing this hope of God with us. Because we need it.


And “when Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Doing just what he had done so often with his followers. On the hillside when 5,000 gathered. At the table with his friends before his death. And at so many normal meals with friends, strangers and enemies. And in that moment they recognized Jesus. He was here, with them. He was here, living out the same stories he had before his death. Speaking the same hope. Challenging them to trust God’s work and be a part of it. Jesus was still with them!


Their hearts are so filled up and ready for the life in front of them that they wondered why they didn’t recognize Jesus sooner! They said, “were not our hearts burning within us when he talked to us on the road?” And those burning hearts send them right out the door- even though it’s dark outside- because they can’t sit still with their hearts on fire! They run back in the middle of the night to tell their friends, “we have seen the Lord!”


That’s how I tell the story every single week to my college students at Towson. Every single week. It’s become my students’ favorite part of Tuesday night dinners, which is our main gathering at Towson. (And I’ve told it enough that my students have FINALLY gotten into their heads that these disciples are not going to Amadeus or Damascus or another place.) And the reason we tell this story over and over again is because we trust that this is not just a story of two travelers 2,000 years ago- this is our story. Our story of how Jesus keeps showing up to us.


Every week we tell the story and remind each other that we are these two followers on the road. And sometimes a stranger walks the road with us. And in those moments when we recognize Jesus right beside us, we get to run back in the middle of the night to our friends to say, “I have seen the Lord!” So after this story each week, we share the moments of God’s presence in our lives. Sometimes they are small things, like a glimpse of the flowers in spring that point us back to the God who brings life or a peace that came over us in the midst of painful times. And the presence of Jesus does even bigger things- from being given the strength to begin healing from an eating disorder to God putting a student with medical training in the right place at the right moment to care for someone who needed immediate help. And just this week one of our students talked about the courage that God gave her to intervene in a sexual assault on campus last week.


So every week we Jesus folk get together, we share the good news that Jesus keeps showing up. He comes in was we don’t always recognize, we don’t always understand at first, but he keeps showing up to walk the road with us.


And we do this every single week because sometimes we know we are, like Jesus tells the travelers, “foolish and slow of heart to believe” all that God has already told us through the stories in our Bible. Sometimes we are foolish and slow of heart to believe our neighbors who have testified to God’s presence in their lives. Sometimes we have been “foolish and slow of heart to believe” when Jesus has come up alongside us and walked the way with us. So we desperately need to be reminded that Jesus walking with us isn’t just a reality for the two followers on the road, it’s the reality for us, too. Over and over again.


And I’ve got to tell you- every week when I tell this story, I think that I’m going to be met with silence. But I’m not. Ever. And there are some weeks when I need to stop the conversation if we’re ever going to make it to our topic for the night!


Because Jesus keeps showing up to walk the road with us! When our hope is hanging on by a thread, Jesus comes to revive our souls and give us enough strength to keep walking. And to remind us that there is nothing in life that we walk through alone, no matter how painful.


When reading Scripture has just become going through the motions, Jesus will pull up beside us to make them into living realities instead of just words. He will help know our God’s relentless desire to love us and have us know God’s love in return. He will remind us of the incredible work God has been up to throughout our Scriptures: forgiving enemies, bringing justice for those who long for it and welcoming the outsider- so that we can have the strength to follow in God’s paths.


And Jesus, who never seems to turn down an invitation to sit down at the table and share a meal, will keep being known to us around the table, too. He will pull up a chair beside us when we share meals with those who don’t always get an invitation and with those we disagree with. Jesus will keep showing up to make our food enough- to fill up our bellies and our souls.


And most surely Jesus comes in the meal we share as God’s family together, at this altar. He promises that all of us weary travelers will meet him here and he’ll keep giving us the bread that sustains us.


We are those travelers on the road and Jesus keeps showing up to us. But do you know what happened when the two recognized Jesus? He vanishes from their sight. And they have nothing to hold onto. Except the holy bread that he gave them. Scriptures that are opened to them. And hearts that are revived. And this is enough to send them out to follow him in his forgiving, justice-bringing, enemy loving work in the world.


They don’t have proof to hold onto that will make all the world believe. But they have their stories. They have their hope and their courage to live their lives in the way of Jesus. They have hearts set on fire for God. They have their eyes open to a world where life conquers death, where love defeats evil, and where Jesus shows up for them in their despair.


This is what our risen Jesus does. Over and over again. May we train our eyes to recognize him when he comes and then run back to testify to our friends, “Truly I have seen the Lord!”


Day 6: Lumbee history, social transformation and being sent home differently

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 24, 2017 at 2:05 AM

We started our last day of the trip at the Indian Education Center and then stayed busy the entire day, thanks to our guide Mac who we are convinced knows everyone in town. He has dedicated his life to this community and loves the people and the place desperately. And we were privileged to have him share his passion with us.


We delved a little deeper into the history of American Indian When Andrew Jackson moved others during the Indian Removal Act, the Lumbee were allowed to stay on their land since no one wanted the swamp land. Yet they still lost rights through the Act in 1835, including their right to vote, the right to own a gun and their right to go to school. The right to go to school- even segregated ones- was not gained until Henry Lowrie fought against the settlers (after witnessing settlers kill his entire family) and prevailed in 1874. We also heard a wonderful story about how the Lumbee stood up to the Klan when they were hoping to hold a rally in the 1950s. The Lumbee turned up to the protest in mass and scared them off by shooting into the air in the dark so the Klan didn’t know what was happening. And after the men jumped into the lake to get away, the Lumbee stayed behind to help the Klanswomen who were getting the cars stuck in ditches while trying to get away. These are the stories that are told to the young people that help them know who they are as a people- a people who will not be bullied, but will stand up for the good of their community.


We also got to make a quick trip out to wigwam and the Spiritual Circle to see where some of the tribe gathers at equinox and solstice as well as for the spring pow-wow. They have made a wigwam (although they didn’t scrape the bark at the right time of year so it curled a bit) and have tried to grow the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) and had lots of trial and error to get it right. These are traditions that weren’t passed down and they are having to relearn the old ways and gather their stories once again.

 Click here for photos

Our tour guide Kenneth told us that the American Indians that eventually became known as the Lumbee survived by banding together. Separately their individual tribal existences were threatened by disease, discrimination and violence. But they were willing to band together in the swamps and become a new people. And this willingness to intermix with others is what allowed them to take in others in need- escaped slaves and Union soldiers escaping prisons in the south. And yet, now this banding together is also what is standing in the way of federal recognition for their tribe, since the government is asking them to choose only one tribal background, am impossibility for a people of numerous tribal heritages. As they continue to try to gain federal recognition, Kenneth said, “We want recognition to care for our elders well, but if we don’t get it, we’ll go on. We’ve already survived this long.” It underscored the understanding of the Lumbee as a self-determined people who will keep finding a way no matter what.


Although the pastor of the Burnt Swamp Baptist Church was not available today to talk as we had hoped, we did learn that there is a largely Lumbee congregation in Baltimore, where many folks moved years ago for the shipbuilding industry. So there are possibilities to deepen the connection to the Lumbee people that we began in North Carolina.


Nest stop was to see Herman and Loretta Oxendine who were good enough to let us come to their home and see the traditional crafts they make. Herman makes hand-shaped pottery fired in a pit while Loretta makes pine-needle baskets. They told stories about growing up in Robeson County under segregation and that they “didn’t think nothin’ of, it’s just how it was. You could go anywhere in Pembroke, just not other places.” Their stories of meeting each other, Loretta’s work as a teacher and their obvious pride in their work was a joy to hear.

 Click here for photos from the day

Back at the River Way environmental center, our guide Mac shared with us wisdom from his 4 decades of work on social transformation. Mac is a man who sees things holistically and sees the gaps in our culture’s way of transforming communities and society as a whole. He encouraged our students to see the value in relationship building and social deliberation as the underpinning of all social change. This is what keeps social movements going and makes them effective- like the Civil Rights Movement. And then we helped to rebuild what was lost by the flood by laying down flooring, removing rotted boards and generally cleaning out the porch and yard. It was a joy to give a tiny bit back to Mac who had done so very much for us.


For our closing worship, with some UNCP students and 2 folks from St Mark’s, we had students share reflections about 3 themes that came up during the week that are also part of our story as followers of Jesus: community, knowing our stories, and imagining a new future. And we gathered around the meal where Jesus meets us- among the community and in the midst of our communal story. The meal where Jesus invites us to imagine the new future that will be reality one day.


For the offering, we invited students to write what God was calling them to do after this week. Many are inspired to continue to serve their neighbors and actually be involved in the lives of others. And several students felt called into deeper community after experiencing the strength of it on this trip, including several who were inspired by Mac’s connection to the community. And still others want to return home and share stories of the Lumbee and amplify their voice as they fight for federal recognition. May God go with these students and empower them in their sense of calling!

 Click here for photos of the day

Day 5: The challenges to community (and building some shelves)

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 23, 2017 at 12:25 AM

This morning started back at the Church and Community Center, finishing up insulating the walls so a group from Charlotte, NC can hang sheetrock on Friday. The rest of our group learned by MUCH trial and error how to assemble metal shelves from piles of supplies in a warehouse. They are old shelves form a discount store that will now hold groceries for the food pantry. There is something healing about building something with your hands and seeing a tangible promise that this building will soon be doing its work of serving the community again. 18 shelves later, we had it down to a science!


The Housing Director and the Executive Director shared a little about the Church and Community Center’s history- it was begun in 1969 in response to rising domestic violence, hunger and need for assistance with heat and electricity. Those are still some of the core needs over 40 years later, because a lot of manufacturing jobs moved out of the county and also because poverty is too often generational. They said their food pantry shelves are rarely full and they are at the mercy of donations in order to be able to give things out. And although they start good programs, they can only run them until the grant money runs out. Robseon County is the poorest in NC (and also the most diverse rural area in the country) and the challenges are not easy to turn around.

Click here to see photos from the day


From our serving, we headed to the Museum of the Southeast American Indian at UNC Pembroke and Alysha explained a lot about the tribal structure to us. She told us about how to gain membership in the tribe- that it includes tracing your lineage to someone listed as “Indian” in the 1900 census. But beyond that, there is a focus on kinship and your intention to stay connected to the community. There is also a written test about the stories and the significant people in Lumbee history. Your blood ties are not enough- you need to have an intention to remain a part of your people to truly be a part of the tribe. A little like following Jesus- baptism may seal you, but you need to keep following if you are going to be a part of the tribe of Jesus followers. And in order to stay connected, around July 4th, there is a 12- day long homecoming celebration where tons of people come home to their people to celebrate and be family.


And she told us about the tri-racial school system that existed in Robeson County up until the 1950s, with separate schools for whites, blacks, and Indians. And how many people in days past hid their American Indian identity because it was meant discrimination and poor treatment. As Native American identity is seen differently now and is embraced, Alysha said that designation as Indian has been reclaimed as a uniting terminology among the Lumbee, a tribe that is an amalgamation of American Indian people in this area of North Carolina that officially chose the name Lumbee for themselves in 1956 (although this was a common name for Native people in this area back to the 1600s.)


We asked what defines the Lumbee culture and she said a sense of community, religion, a unique dialect (although their original languages are lost) and a sense of place. With more than 55,000 members, the Lumbee are one of the largest tribes in the US. Yet, even though they are recognized as indigenous people, they have no rights in the federal government. They are the only tribe with that unique designation and one that they continue to fight to change and feel they are on the verge of being given rights by the federal government.


While some of us went to finish up constructing the shelves from earlier, the rest o the group went to the Lumbee Boys and Girls Club to help with the after-school program. One of the workers told me about the challenges the kids in the club face- about 40% of them come from single-parent homes, with many kids not knowing their fathers, while others are being raised by grandparents. After hearing so much about the deep value of community among the Lumbee, it was jarring to hear about the same challenges we face in Baltimore. We try to make other places idyllic- to think that there is a beautiful place where the problems we face don’t exist- but the challenges in our American culture deeply affect the Lumbee population the same way they affect other communities.


Dinner tonight was a little vision of God’s kingdom. Some visiting Chinese scholars at UNCP were showing their appreciation to the people of Pembroke UMC for their kindness by cooking them a traditional Chinese meal for their regular Wednesday Bible study group of members. And we joined in by bringing pasta- a college student staple. And we ate and shared stories and there was more than enough. The Scripture for the evening was from 1 Timothy and was about how the Christian community should care for widows- reserving their monetary care for those who had no family to care for them. The Church has always been responsible for being family to those who have none. It has chosen to be an alternative community- connected to strangers by the shared love of Jesus- and responsible for each other out of that love. This alternative family was on display tonight and it’s a similar reality that exists within the connected lives of the some of the Lumbee folks we have met.

Click here to see photos from the day


Day 4: Rivers, campfires and long-term recovery

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 22, 2017 at 1:05 AM

With weather gettng up to the 80s, we took a day to enjoy the beauty of God's creation.  We spent the morning floating down a part of the Lumber River and eating lunch at River Way. Mac Legerton, our guide, runs River Way environmental center and it also serves as an income generator for the Center for Community Action that he runs.  It was a great day to be paddling, despite our less-than-great steering skills, and a great day to be singing on the river.  The beauty of the river was in contrast to the plastic bags hanging in the trees and a "trash island" that had formed near some downed trees.  When the waters receeded after the flood, they took with them all sorts of deris from roadways and deposited them in the river.  One of our brave kayak teams when along puling bags out of trees (while our canoers focused on not tipping over.)  There was much laughter and singing of all water-themed song we could think of- all until we entered the wetlands.  Mac brought us in there to see the blue heron nests.  There were 2 herons in the trees and when the distant sirens died down, it was a sound of sheer silence as the herons circled overhead.  It was the sheer silence like some of our students shared about in devotions a few days ago- the prophet Elijah experienced on the mountain God's presence in the sheer silence.  We stayed there for about 10 minutes and our students spoke of that as a moment of utter peace and something that they didn't even know they needed until it happened.  Being in creation does that- it connects us to a part of ourselves that we forget and it connects us to the voice of God that we didn't even realize that we had failed to listen to.  We pray that in the midst of the stress and frsutration that the flooding has brought, those affected would be blessed with a peace like this.  Because we all need to take the deep breath that nature lets us take. 

After lunch by the river (with a few folks jumping in the freezing cold water), we went to the long-term recovery group that meets weekly.  Disaster relif coordinators, pastors and others helping with the recovery meet to coordinate services and network with each other to determine the best way forward. They don't have much money themselves- only $15,000 as a committee- but they can come together to make sure that all residents are cared for, that case management is given to all that can use it, and avoid duplicating services. 

There are still 149 families living in motels 5 months after the flooding.  Although there were ony 4 deaths from the flooding, folks here say there has been an uptick in the death rate the past several months as exhaustion and grief set in.  That's why one group has been set up to care for emotional and spiritual needs of these 149 families.  Some of the students gathered with this group to learn what they had planned- but there was only one member of the committee present.  It felt like we were just taking up his time being there, but then he asked our thoughts.  And we shared from our own experiences (including our connections already with the Community Engagement Office at UNC Pembroke- college students always need service hours!). And you could see this one man's energy pick up a little after we chatted.  This wasn't anything big and that energy may not have lasted, but it was a reminder than in the midst of a disaster, those outside the situation can bring the gift of a new set of eyes and can hold onto hope for those who are too weary to carry it themselves.  We can't clean everything up, we don't often have the best ideas of how a community can recover, but we can hold onto hope and vision for them at times when the going is too hard.  And sometimes we get the privelege of being that hope.  One of our students heard about a 90-year old woman who still hasn't had her house cleaned up.  We will call tomorrow to see if we might be the help she'd been waiting for.

After dinner, a few of our students helped with childcare for a substance abuse recovery group while the rest of us got ready for a campfire.  There was singing, story-telling and s'mores.  And we did what we do every single night- we relect on where we saw God at work or a question with which we are struggling.  And it's amazing during this sharing how the experiences we are having intersect with the challenges we brought with us into this week- the stuff from our lives back home.  That's where God so often chooses to show up and where we most recognize God's presence- in things that may seem small to others, but seem like God speaking right to our hearts through the challenge or the forgiveness that we desperately needed.  And we pray that God will keep being up to that work when we head back to physical labor tomorrow!

Click here to see photos from the day

Day 3: Raising a fence, installing insulation, and dancing- it's all about community!

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 21, 2017 at 12:15 AM

Community- that's the word that came up over and over as the students' reflected on their day.  It was everywhere and it was beautiful.

We began the day at the Lumber River, which we'll be floating down tomorrow.  We joined our guide Mac at the River Way environmental center where he asked us to try something he didn't know was possible.  The fence of the center had been knocked down by a tornado that came through and he didn't know if it could be saved.  With every student pushing, it took about 5 minutes for the fence to be standing up again and braced with wood to make it stay.  Community makes possible what we can't do on our own.

Then we headed over to the Church and Community Center, the largest relief organization in Robeson County, which provides a thrift store, a food pantry, and case management among its services. The building had been heavily flooded and rebuilding the inside has begun.  We arrived to tasks that seemed enormous- clearing debris from the backyard including deconstructing moldy wooden shelves, scraping linoleum glue off the floor and installing insulation for sound proofing in an office area that will provide case management.  By the time we left that afternoon, we had insulated 8 1/2 rooms, fought mightily with the linoleum glue and won at least a little, and the debris in the back was gone.  It was a joy to be of service, to be tired out by the work in God's kingdom.  But what struck the students even more was how we worked together- us 16 students and 3 leaders.  They were thankful for  how community was created as we work toward a shared goal, even one that was exhausting and frustrating (linoleum glue is the worst!)  Get to know you games and conversation starts to build community, but shared work in the same direction brings us together even faster.  God finds a way to bless us even through tedious work. 

Although students were grateful for the work to do, at least one wondered if this was the best way- a buch of college kids doing he work while many in the county were unemployed.  Wouldn't it be more just to offer this work to people needing jobs and then pay them for it? Shouldn't we instead offer the community monetary support to rebuld themselves to the extent they are able?  Good questions to struggle with.  But the reality that sometimes volunteers are easier to raise up than money.  You have to decide whether getting the food pantry running sooner is more important than giving a few people jobs for a little while.  God's answer may be different each time and people of faith are called to keep asking the question.

With arms exhausted and community built, we took a break for treats- first by picking SO MANY early season strawberries at Locklear Farm, a Lumbee owned farm.  And then, with free ice cream cones at Dairy Queen for the first day of spring.  And thus continues our tradition in campus ministry- 8 straight years of obtaining free frozen treats on the first day of spring!

Our evening ended at the Lumbee Boys and Girls Club for their weekly cultural night.  We gathered in the gym to gather in prayer and singing, with men gathered around a large drum that they treat with the respect they would show an ancestor.  They drummed and sang, similar songs to what these same men played at the pow-wow on Saturday.  And then we finally got the answers to some of our pow-wow questions about the symbolism of th dances.  Pow-wows have historically been a way for different tribes to come together and share dances and now are judged, too. We learned about the grass dances, historically the first ones performed in order to clear the fields for future dancing.  And the fancy dance or butterfly dance, danced with a shawl outstretched like butterfly wings, was a modified war dance (which is really a storytelling dance) created for women.  We were invited to join in for the traditional dance- the easiest ones for beginners to learn.  Even though it was the easiest, it was quite obvious that some of us were cut out for dancing a little more than others.  But it was powerful to dance along with the sound of the drum.  Reggie, one of the cultural leaders, told us that they dance and sing for their physical, mental and spiritual health- this clears ther mind and connects them to themselves and their stories in a deep way.

Little kids through elders were there tonight, helping to teach about their culture and dance, with elders encouraging the younger members to be the ones to tell the stories.  But this culture night wasn't for our benefit- it happens every week so that the community can remember who it is and who it has been.    And it's a time to be together as a community.  Tonight babies were passed around, people supported each others' prayer requests by beating on the drum, and they deeply enjoyed each others' company.  It was a vision of community that many of our students long for.  A people connected by stories, traditions and a shared love and sense of responsibility for each other.  This is a vision of what the Christian communtiy has been at its finest moments- being rooted in the stories of Jesus and his love for us so that we live it out by caring for each other and all the other folks that Jesus loves.  It's a vision that brings people in not by force, but by fascination.  A vision that we can't always articulate that we long for until we see its beauty in front of us.  This is not to say that this Native communtiy or any community is perfect or easy, but it reminds us of a longing within us to be connected to each other and to the stories that tell us who we are.

See the photos from our trip by clicking here!

Day 2: Hospitality to outsiders, life-giving water and waters that destroy

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 20, 2017 at 1:25 AM

Years ago, a circuit-rider would bring preaching and communion to congregations whenever they were in the area of a church without a pastor.  And when two Lutheran pastors happen to be passing through the only Lutheran congregation in Robeson county and they happen to be without a pastor, we stop in to preach, preside and bring along students to help lead worship, too.  It was a joy to be among God's people at worship this morning and to hear Pastor Ray preach about this Jesus who meets us and loves us when we are the outcast and who invites us to follow in his footsteps.  To bring his love and his forgiveness to those who find themselves on the margins of life.  To bring the living water of God's welcome and God's presence to those who thirst for it. 

And today we found life-giving welcome in the people of St. Mark's, who hosted a delicious potluck lunch for us after worship, the kind with plates full of deviled eggs and a whole table full of desserts.  And as full as the table was, the community was even better- like being among family we had not met before.  By the end of lunch, one of our students was carrying a baby who had fallen asleep on her while she was playing with him, we had shared stories with all the members sitting with us, and had also met a student and a recent grad from UNC Pembroke who had helped found the Lutheran Episcopal Campus Ministry there.  They formed by themselves first and then seeking out Lutheran and Episcopal pastors to support them.  In the midst of 7 Baptist campus ministries, ELM has a distinctly different way of living out the faith.  It was a way that one of the students was eager to experience after growing up in a church where they only talked about what you were doing wrong.  To hear about a Jesus that speaks love first was living water to her. 

After we were fed, we got to met Mac Legerton, a UCC pastor who founded and runs the Community Action Center.  He wil be our guide for the week, helping us to learn more about the realities of rural poverty, connecting us with the Lumbee community and giving us opportunities to serve in ways that are helpful to the community's rebuilding. 

Pictures wouldn't load the the blog, so see them here

Mac took us on a driving tour of some of the flood affected areas.  The flood was caused by 18 inches of rain in 24 hours in October 2016, but made worse by a dyke installed originally to prevent flooding which didn't allow the waters to recede naturally back into the Lumber River.  Thankfully, only 4 people were killed in the flooding- those being motorists who got stuck.  Mac says they brought in rescue boats very quickly to rescue stranded folks.  They were without water for 2 weeks, as the flooding took out the main water plant.  Even though most lives were spared, rebuildng will take a long while. 

4 months after the flooding, sand from the bottom on the river still covers many yards and there was still debrs and ruined cars (not too many, but some).  One of the roads we were on had fallen apart in places and stil hasn't been rerouted, just leaving dead ends. Many of the homes were in the most economically disadvantaged communities, so restoring the area was FEMA will buy out some of the destroyed homes, so some are not attempting to rebuild right now, but others are eager to leave the motels they are living in and get back home.  We will learn our role in the rebuilding tomorrow.

Later Mac gathered back at our home for the week (and brought cots and air mattresses with him, yay Mac!!) to share stories about his work of poverty reduction and sustainability and to tell us about all sorts of possibilities for our time together (which included enough to last us for 3 weeks!), so we are eager to hear what we'll be doing each day. 

Some of our students led us in devotions tonight, reminding us that although God can speak in powerful ways and can speak through destructive things, often we hear God best in the sheer silence.  And they reminded us to listen to the silence after the flooding to hear what God is doing now to re-establish places to live and to connect with others (like us) who have come to learn and serve. 

We have been filled up today- by the living water of hospitality at St. Mark's, by the faith, passion and prayer shared by Mac, by anticipation of all the week will hold, and by the grief of what this community has lost.  And by the laughter- the oh so much laughter- shared by these students.

Pictures wouldn't load to the blog, so you can see them here

Day 1: Pembroke, Pow-wow and Mr. P's SkateWorld

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 19, 2017 at 1:10 AM

We left this morning from Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Petersburg Virginia, where Pastor Paul Christian let us stay for the night.  Paul was an intern at St. Paul's in Lutherville, just a few miles from Towson, back in 2009-2010 and now our paths crossed again.  On the floor of the church right before the entrance to the sanctuary was an engraved stone reminding us, "nor shout, nor rush, but hush- God is here."  Good reminders of the days ahead.  Don't hurry too much or speak too much so that we fail to notice God in our midst and through the brothers and sisters we meet.


The rain dampened a stop to see Vollis Simpson's whirligigs in Wilson, NC.  Mr. Simpson was a folk artist, making joyful, whimsical twirling scultures out of metal. People who dedicate part of their lives to adding beauty that brings joy to others are amazing. 

We arrived in Pembroke, NC after lunch to our upgraded accommodations at First United Methodist Church (since the educational center where we were going to stay still has flood damage.)  This means we have a great kitchen and carpeted floors!  But not only that, Pastor Matheue Locklear greeted us and told us about his congregation and his life as a pastor.  He is originally from the area and is a member of the Lumbee tribe, the largest Native American group in this part of North Carolina.   Since Methodist pastors move often and he has pastored both primarily Native congregations as well as non-Native congregations, we asked what the differences were between them.  He said it had a lot to do with a shared history and shared stories as well as the relationships between people- here he knows people by face or at least what family they are from. And that lends a different depth to community.  And there is also a rootedness to the people in a tribe- they are always connected to this place and either never leave, or will almost alwas return here at some point.  Which sounds like a pretty beautiful thing to a campus pastor whose congregation is always moving away every year!

We are only a few blocks away from the University of North Carolina Pembroke- originally founded in 1887 as a normal school for Native Americans.  The first Anglo student wasn't admitted until 1949 and it has since then evolved to become a campus of UNC.  Today UNC Pemboke was hosting a Pow-wow.  We arrived ready to pay our entrance fee, but the the Office of Community and Civic Engagement had a table near the enrance and noticed us.  They asked to pay the entrance fee for all 19 of us to thank us for serving for the week in their county doing flood relief work. What an amazing blessing!

The pow-wow was amazing, although we are looking forward to talking to someone who can explain more about it to us in the coming days.  The major part of the pow-wow is a ceremonial dance competition, with people from 4 year olds through grandmothers dancing in different categories- celebration, traditional, jingle, and fancy- while groups of men played drums and sang for each dance. Different people were called up to judge each dance, many of them who would also be competing in other dances later.  They heard their name called and willingly served- the community at the pow-wow had an undersatnding of how it was called to function and each felt empowered to do their part.  That's an awsome vision for Christian community.

After some tremendous macaroni and cheese, we were eager to go to the Fire Circle to celebrate the equinox.  But a deluge did away with those possibilities.  So, onto plan B at Mr. P's SkateWorld!!  Roller skating for the night (where parents get in free - and they counted the pastors as parents- and there are discounts for church groups!) with the money we saved on the pow-wow!  There was frustration, but far more laughter. And there was a lot of falling but even more holding each other up and pulling each other up from the ground.  May our week continue like that! 

Tomorrow we head to St. Mark's Lutheran in Lumberton where the campus pastors will be helping lead worship for a congregation who is without a pastor and we'll your some of the areas of Lumberton affected by the flooding.  And we'll meet Mac Legerton, our host for the week. 

Pictures refused to load on the blog, so see them here 

Seeing Jesus when others only see healing

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 11, 2016 at 11:30 AM

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19

Ok, so I never much like this story of the 10 lepers who were healed and the one who returnd to Jesus to say thank you.  Not because it's a bad story, but because I think it’s easy and too moralistic to really struggle with.  And I like Jesus stories that make you struggle.  this is one where you ust nod your head.   “Jesus wants you to say thank you” seems too simplistic a message, even though it’s something I tell my daughter most nights when she complains about saying grace before dinner.  This message is something we already know, even though we don’t do it. And frankly, Jesus sounds a little like a mother pulling a guilt-trip- “what, I healed 10 and only one can be bothered to come back and say “thank you?” The story is fine but it doesn’t really inspire. Guilt never does.


And I struggle with the story because every single leper was healed. All 10 of them. They do exactly what Jesus tells them too. They run right to the priest when Jesus tells them too. And frankly, this is an act of faith. Can you imagine living with a disease that cut you off from your entire community? Your whole life is gone. And the only way to escape this reality is to suddenly be healed and then get the approval of the priest that you are actually clean.


So, when Jesus tells these folks that they are healed, they have to go walking off to the priest without any assurance that healing will come. They have hope, but no proof. And all 10 of them go and do exactly what Jesus tells them. And that’s more faith than I always have. And in the midst of this faithful walking, their skin changes. Their fingers and toes are restored. They are healed. They are restored to their families, their work, their lives. I can’t imagine there was a single man with leprosy that wasn’t thrilled. Their restoration was so important they couldn’t wait to have it proved true. So they kept on running to the priest.


But one stops. He looks at his hands and feet restored and he starts shouting. Starts yelling, “Thank you Jesus!” Starts dancing with those restored feet and thanking God with a voice loud enough for the whole town to hear. And he let everyone know that God is up to some stuff in him. Instead of yelling “unclean, unclean” as lepers were supposed to go around saying so no one would accidentally touch him, he yelled, “God has healed me!” so loud that people came to stare.


And when he gets to Jesus, he falls down on the ground and bows- the way you would honor someone far above you in power. This Samaritan- this outcast even among the outcast lepers- bows to Jesus as the one who has the power to bring healing and restore life. He notices God’s power in Jesus can’t stay away from this one who changes the future.


And Jesus says, “This one, this Samaritan, this man with leprosy- this man who you had written off as not worth anything- this is the man who saw the power of God at work in me. He can see the truth of who I am and what I came to this world to do. This man recognizes and praises and stays close to me. Oh, how I wish all my people would do this!” Because “Love that springs from gratitude is the essence of faith.”



And then he tells this 10th man- “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Go back to your life a changed man and live like that for the rest of your life.


But those words, “your faith has made you well” or “your faith has saved you” always stick with me. Because Jesus says that a lot. To the woman anointing his feet, the woman with a hemorrhage, and the blind beggar. And I always think that leads us down a slippery slope- that only those who have enough faith in Jesus get healed. And that’s not my experience.


And even more than that- I don’t think the leprosy just came back for the other 9 because they didn’t say thank you. Just because they didn’t have the same faith as the 10th man. So what does Jesus mean? How does this faith save this 10th man? How does it make him any more whole than the other 9 who were healed?


Well, I don’t think that this saving means what we often assume- that he got into heaven because he noticed Jesus. I assume he did, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about. I don’t think Jesus healed the other 9 to test them and then tell them they weren’t getting into heaven because they didn’t say thank you.


The one who returned to Jesus saw that this wasn’t just an awesome miracle, but the beginning of a new life in Jesus. He noticed the miracle for what it was- the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. He saw with kingdom eyes. He had his eyes turned to what God was doing in the world.


He was saved- or made whole- by being welcomed into a life lived in the kingdom of God. From that day forward, this Samaritan man lived his whole life enveloped in the reality that God is in charge.


He lived his life knowing that God works good in the most desperate circumstances. He knows that God chooses him in love even when no one else would. He lives his life looking into the world and seeing God’s good intention for it. And knows that God can and will work for the life of the world. Even when it seems impossible. All 10 got the miracle of healing , only one got the life spent with Jesus, the thing that made him whole


Now, I visited the Religious Fundamentalism class at Towson this week to answer questions and someone asked why God doesn’t show up the same way God did before and speak so clearly anymore. I said that I think it’s really a matter of us not looking into the world with the same eyes. Of us looking into the world like the 9 lepers instead of the 10th. Of seeing only the miracle and missing the one who brings it. We tend to explain away miracles using science rather than letting science point us to the mystery and beauty that is God at work.


And one of the practices of the Christian community- the stuff we’ve been talking about on Tuesday nights- is to teach us to look into the world with kingdom eyes. To expect God to be at work. To remind each other of such work. To celebrate it and run out to tell about it. To come back to Jesus in those moments with thanksgiving and love. To let those moments of return and praise change us. Save us. Make us whole.


Seeing with kingdom eyes means seeing God at work within the small coincidences and miraculous moments in life. And seeing in those moments a power so far beyond ourselves- a power so good and gracious and beautiful that it could only be named God, . Of relationships healed. Of peace coming in the midst of painful anxiety. Of being put in the right place at the right time to be able to do God’s healing work. Of recognizing the sacred when everyone around us only saw ordinary life.


God will continue to heal and fight for life- that’s God’s nature. But we have the gift of being like the 10th leper- of recognizing God at work. Of sharing it. Of celebrating it. Of living our lives out of the knowledge that God is at work in this world and that we get to get up and go be a part of that work, too.