Life in Exile (Part 2)

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away
captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us
requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the
songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4)

BabylonThus lamented the people of Israel while exiled in the land of Babylon. Their nation had been conquered, their city laid waste, their temple destroyed. How could they sing to the Lord in a foreign land, a land not only of foreign peoples, but of foreign gods? How could they praise the Lord while in such a state of misery and defeat?

And yet, they did. In the midst of their exile there was also blessing. God had sent them into Babylon, but He had not abandoned them there. Though their temple was gone, He was not absent. While chastising the nation for its unfaithfulness, He also preserved it and provided for His people — even in Babylon. And the faithful of Israel did sing the Lord’s song in that foreign land, a song of thankfulness in the midst of suffering, a song of hope in the midst of exile.

Daniel, before facing the lions of King Darius, is found doing this. “In his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10). When the Lord made us of Esther to save the Jews living in exile from the evil Haman, the Jews proclaimed a feast and gathered together in gladness. And while the Biblical book of Esther does not speak of God’s actions directly in this account, apocryphal Esther says: “This is Israel, who cried out to God and were saved. The Lord has saved His people; the Lord has delivered us from all these evils; God has done great signs and wonders, which have not occurred among the nations… God remembered His people and vindicated His inheritance” (10:9, 12). History tells us that it was during the Babylonian exile that synagogues were first established, places where the Jews, lacking a temple, could meet to hear the Word of the Lord and to sing the songs of Zion. And yet, even though God was present with them in that foreign land, even though He had blessed them there such that we could say that they thrived in exile, they longed for more. They longed for a return.

One day the Lord answered that longing by bringing them out of exile to Jerusalem. Sorrow was turned to rejoicing; hope, to blessed fulfillment. The nation was restored. The city walls were raised up. The temple was rebuilt. And the people sang:

When the Lord brought back
the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great
things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad. (Psalm 126:1-3)

In 1940 the Minnesota District Convention decided that there wasn’t a pressing need for a campus chapel at the University of Minnesota. It would be enough, they determined, to have a campus pastor who could conduct the ministry without one. Three years later, at the 1943 convention, they realized they had made a mistake. The motto of the 1943 convention echoed the theme of the exiles returning from Babylon: “Let us rise up and build” (Nehemiah 2:18). And while the convention essay rightly focused on the building that takes place through the faithful preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, the convention delegates applied this theme to the needs of the campus ministry at the U of M, approving a resolution instructing the District Board of Directors to: “prepare plans and gather funds for the erection of a university chapel.”

Laying the Cornerstone of the old ULC Chapel
Laying the Cornerstone of the old ULC Chapel

In 2012, the Minnesota South District (though the convention was denied the right to vote on the issue) decided that the chapel that had resulted from that 1943 action was no longer needed at the U of M; that such a place was superfluous – a hinderance even – to the work of campus ministry. Three years later, at the 2015 convention, held just a few weeks ago, the District realized they had made a mistake. The delegates passed a resolution (with a 92% majority!) that recognizes: “University Lutheran Chapel (ULC) lacks worship space on or near the campus it serves,” and that resolves to put together a Campus Ministry Plan which will, in part, “Provide financial support for adequate worship space on or near the campus being served.”

Since 2012 ULC has been worshipping in exile, so to speak. God has not abandoned us. Indeed, like with ancient Israel, He has blessed us greatly during this time of exile. But it is an exile. We worship at an ELCA chapel where the foreign gods of post-modernity, social justice, and liberal theology are the chief deities of the land, whose images surround us in the art, architecture, propaganda and literature of the place. And though we are very thankful for a place to worship, it is not our homeland. We feel rather like the Jews in Babylon. While there is much rejoicing among us because of the Gospel we have and receive, as well as the fellowship we share in Christ, it is still hard sometimes not to weep “when we remember Zion.”

It took seven years from the time of the 1943 convention to build a chapel. We pray it will not take us until 2022 to build the new chapel. But we have an advantage over them in this: we have already raised 2/3 of the funds needed for the project. The land has already been purchased. A plan is already underway. Now the District has determined to help. We don’t know how much yet. But we do know that we continue to need your help too.

Our goal is to dedicate the chapel at Reformation 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses. Please help us rise up and build. Help us so that weeping may turn to rejoicing, and that we may also say: “We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.”

This article appears in the Summer 2015 ULC Newsletter. You can read the rest of the newsletter here.

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Why Luther House?

Recovered from the old blog…

Your congregation is without a permanent place to worship. You’ve got enough money to buy a church somewhere. Why in the world would you purchase an old sorority house instead?  Isn’t having a church building more important than setting up a campus ministry house?

Many have likely asked such questions about ULC’s decision to purchase Luther House on the U of M campus. Heck,  our own congregation asked these questions before we bought it. And it was not the easiest decision in the world to make. But what it came down to was University Lutheran Chapel’s commitment to campus ministry, and specifically to campus ministry at the University of Minnesota.

Luther House - University Lutheran Chapel

Oh, we looked at other churches that were for sale. We considered moving off campus. And the purchase of any of the existing church buildings for sale would require (and still would require) a move quite a ways off campus.  We thought about trying to establish ourselves  closer to another campus, like St. Thomas or Macalester in St. Paul.  We  considered trying to purchase a warehouse or storefront along the light rail line being constructed between Minneapolis and St. Paul and setting up church that way in hopes that students from the U of M would come to us. We even thought about abandoning campus ministry altogether and just repackaging ourselves as the go-to  congregation  for liturgical Lutherans in the Twin Cities.

But we kept coming back to our roots – to the reason that our particular congregation exists, that is, to what makes it unique among the many fine congregations in the Twin Cities metro area. At it’s root our congregation is a campus ministry congregation; a congregation that not only grew out of campus ministry, but that also cares passionately about campus ministry now and the spiritual welfare of students today. A campus church is who we are, and who we want to be. How could we abandon our place at the University of Minnesota? How could we abandon our vocation here? How could we leave our students, and the students to come, to fend for themselves? How could we not be here to deliver Christ and His Gospel, His Word and His Sacraments to them?

And so, after much discussion and not a little debate, the congregation of ULC wholeheartedly decided to purchase that old sorority house and establish Luther House as our home base at the University of Minnesota. And we did so with clear intent to not just establish a campus house, but to build a church here too.

Some may say we put the cart before the horse – especially because we value the Divine Service so deeply and see it as the core around which everything else we do revolves. And it would have been a lot (a whole lot!) easier to have just purchased an old church some 2-5 miles off campus and then figure out the campus ministry part later… maybe… someday…   But in the end we knew that we couldn’t do that. It would be a betrayal of who we are, and of the position God has put us in within and for His Church.

So here we are. Luther House is in its second full semester of operation. And it has become a hub of activity for our students and for many of our members. Many days the place is buzzing with people from morning through night. Other days it is a place of retreat and quiet study. Our students have really made the house their home (some of them literally so, as we have several young men in residence now), and are organizing their own activities there with friends and classmates along side of the “official” activities of ULC. And our Bible studies and midweek worship services have seen a big bump in attendance, yes, even over that which we had at the old chapel. Luther House has become a place of refuge and recreation, of community and friendship, of study and of prayer; a place where the Word of Christ is proclaimed and taught, and is at work in all who hear it.

Luther House is just the first step though. Though Luther House has become many good things, it is not a place fit for the Sunday service. There is no altar. There is no font. And it is just too small for the attendance we normally have. As I’ve said all along, our students and our congregation need a chapel on campus. We are working hard to make that a reality, right next door to Luther House. Yes, the members of ULC have chosen the harder path. But they can’t make it to the end of that path without your help and the help of the broader Church.  Please support the Build-It-Back effort and make the dream a new chapel at the U of M a reality.

Life in Exile (Part 1)

Another post rescued from our old blog…

The theme of exile and return is one that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments. It first makes an appearance in Genesis 3, where man, on account of his rebellions and sin is exiled from Paradise. No longer would he enjoy the easy and fulfilling labor of tending God’s Garden, but would be forced to work land that resisted his efforts. No longer would he dwell in peace and safety. And, most important, no longer would he have free access to the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve, by their sin, had exiled themselves from dwelling in a right relationship with God. And therefore, lest they eat the Tree of Life and confirm themselves in their rebellion eternally, God sends them out, placing cherubim with a flaming sword to block their return.

Expulsion from Paradise - York Psalter, c.1170
Expulsion from Paradise – York Psalter, c.1170

The history of mankind since that dark day has been a quest to return to the garden, a quest which takes one of two paths. The first is to find or to create a paradise of one’s own choosing. This path is, in a word, sin. It is to continue down the path of rejecting the good God gives and embracing the supposed good one can find or make apart from His grace. It is a path doomed to failure. It makes not paradise, but hell.

The second path is one that man cannot find on his own. It is the path of faith. On this path God Himself reaches down to put one on the path, to lead and guide along the way, and to bring one at last back to the Tree of Life. This path does not appeal to man’s natural inclinations. And it does not have the appearance of good to the natural man. It is a path that is difficult, that requires suffering and sacrifice. Above all it requires the sacrifice of one’s own sinful will and desires, subjecting them to the will and grace of Christ. It is a path not of prideful climbing up to paradise, but of kneeling in humility that one might be raised up by God. But it is a path that brings one at last to the true Paradise as one is given to eat again of the Tree of Life, and to fellowship with God forever.

This world in which we live is our place of exile. Though we build houses here, raise our children here, and make our lives here, it is not our true home. The writer to the Hebrews says of the saints:

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Those who have been baptized into Christ and given faith are now citizens of a different homeland. And to that homeland we are always pressing. We live, therefore, in repentance; turning away from the sin that marks life in the world, and seeking the grace that marks life in the Kingdom – seeking Christ.

Our Lord has not left us to fend for ourselves on this pilgrimage home. He knows our struggles, having become a stranger and pilgrim Himself in His incarnation. He has fully suffered the pain and trauma of exile as hung upon the cross. And he has gone before us in His resurrection and ascension to prepare a place for us, so that we might be welcomed home at last and take our place among the saints around the throne of God, and eat from the Tree of Life.

And so He gives us outposts of the Heavenly homeland – places where He is present and brings the grace of heaven to us, where He even makes the Kingdom present on earth and where we find again the paradise of God. Here the flaming sword has been removed for us and we are given access again to the Tree of Life, even as we journey homeward toward it.

These outposts are the congregations where His Word is faithfully proclaimed and His Sacraments given to and enjoyed by the faithful. In these outposts, these oases, the faithful are refreshed and strengthened for the long journey home. In these places God Himself feeds His people from the Tree of Life, His own Body and Blood, in anticipation of our return at last from exile when in our true homeland we shall dine with Him eternally. +

Back to Square One – Ugh….

Sq1So our blog site got infected with some kind of malware. It took out the blog and the ULC Website for a while. We have no idea how it got into the WordPress files, but it did… We fixed it.

Fixing it, however, somehow eliminated all of the files on BuildULC.org.

So here we are again, back at Square One.

But do not despair! New content about the Build It Back effort is coming very soon. Lots of new content. Including newly revised chapel plans and drawings. So check back very soon.

And if there’s any information you need from the old blog, I’ll do my best to reconstruct it for you. Just let me know… Revkind@gmail.com.

Building a New LC-MS Chapel at the U of M