I need to confess something. Working at the Lutheran Center drives me absolutely nuts sometimes.
No, I don’t mean it’s a lousy job. Far from it – I love working in campus ministry. It’s the actual Lutheran Center that drives me nuts. The building itself. Working IN the Lutheran Center drives me absolutely nuts sometimes, because it’s a mess, and it’s not getting any less messier.
Nothing EVER gets clean at the Center. Oh, sure, we wipe it down once a year or so and call it good. But every corner is dusty, every ceiling has spiderwebs, and none of it is going away. Do you know how many closets there are in this building? Do you know how many closets have crap that hasn’t moved once since I took this call? Light bulbs burn out and don’t get replaced. Flowers get planted and don’t get watered. Hymnals and worship folders migrate around the building until no one knows how many we have and what we would do if we ever got them in one place.
There’s no air conditioning here except three window units that keep our offices bearable in most of the summer heat. The windows in the basement have yet to be finished. The kitchen? A disaster area. Matter of fact, everything below ground level needs a complete overhaul, from what I can tell, to be followed by everything above ground level. But we can’t afford to overhaul things as quickly as we’d like – the finances just aren’t there. So, for now, we endure a building that looks as though it might start falling down around us one of these days. Now do you understand why working in the Center drives me absolutely nuts?
The psalmist cries out to God: “Will you be displeased with us forever? Will you prolong your anger from age to age? Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you?” I wonder some days if that’s what the building is saying to me as I walk in the door. “How long, O Pastor Scott, must I wait for fresh paint? For a sump pump? For the air conditioning I desperately need? How long?”
But, at the same time, the psalmist also says, “Truly, your salvation is very near to those who fear you, that your glory may dwell in our land.” This, from the same psalmist who was just asking God if God’s anger would never depart? How does that work?
Last summer, Kristin and I took seven campers from our two churches to church camp in Nebraska for one week. We stayed at the same camp I had gone to in 1985, when I was 11 years old, and as luck would have it, we were at a campsite that used the original dining hall from all those years ago. In the 20 years since I was a camper there, buildings had gone up like weeds on those 300 acres, but the old Main Site Dining Hall remained, unchanged, from when it was first built in the mid-1970s. No air conditioning. Tired old ceiling fans that barely moved the air. Worn out, out-of-tune piano that looked about a million years old. But I walked into that dining hall and was instantly transported back to weeks of camp that uprooted, molded and shaped me into something completely new and reborn. That dilapidated old building houses more memories than I can count, and when they finally do replace it with something better, part of me will grieve, because a place very special to me will be gone.
If new paint, air conditioning and windows that close properly were the marks of salvation, then both my old camp and our campus ministry would be in trouble. Salvation is marked by something completely different. I think many of us 21st century American Christians often mistake maintenance for ministry, facilities for faith. True, we are called to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, but the first priority of stewardship is faithful living, not feng shui. Salvation is very near to us at the Lutheran Center, not because of or in spite of our dilapidated building, but because in this place we are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by God’s Word, put to death in our sin and raised to new life in Christ, even in this building that leaks and moans and gets moldy if you don’t dump the dehumidifiers every day. Can it be frustrating? Sure – but not nearly as frustrating as God must get, dealing with we of little faith who think that a newly sealed parking lot is a sign that we’re on the right track. Salvation is near, friends, but it isn’t our building that shows it – it’s our hearts, and those can be turned by God in any place, any time, tripping peacefully along or, in my case, going nuts with nowhere else to go. Thanks be to God. Amen.