The Society of Campus Ministers

“It’s always whoredom.”

The EFM class at my parish has a running joke about this passage. It’s one of those readings that makes parents silently wish that they had NOT taken their children to get a nice dose of religion this morning. And it’s one of those that makes me squirm when I read it, because the patriarchy […]

Sermon for a Slave Girl

Rev. Megan L. Castellan July 7, 2019 Ordinary Time, Proper 9 1 Samuel  The story of Naaman’s healing is one of those Biblical stories that is internally famous in scripture.  Jesus mentions it in his first sermon in a synagogue in Nazareth, and it’s part of what gets him in trouble.  (We will see why […]

Trinity Baptism: Let’s just do everyone

Rev. Megan L. Castellan June 16, 2019 Trinity Sunday, Year C So, one of the classics, in the genre of Arguments Protestants Have, is who should get baptized?   Protestantism has lots of classic arguments like this: things like how much water should you use for a baptism, and whether wine is allowable at communion, […]

Pentecost, postmodernism and language

One of the things they warn you about in seminary is How to Do Liturgical Change. There are lots of dire stories about parishes who moved their altar back against the east wall in the dead of night, parishes that to this day refuse to use the 79 BCP, Altar Guilds that went rogue and […]

Holding up our words

Rev. Megan L. Castellan May 11, 2019 Easter 4, Year C Acts In my first call, the rector decided that we needed a new photo director of all 2,000 members, and also that the new curate (me!) should take this on as my first task.  I studied our old one, and asked him if we […]

So long, and thanks for all the fish

This sermon was given in the immediate proximity of the San Diego synagogue shooting. One of the aspects of that horror that didn’t get covered much was the religious affiliation of the perpetrator. He was a young, white Presbyterian. He was a devout attender of the Presbyterian Church of America–a breakaway group of the PC(USA), […]

Sermon Dump, 2019

Well, friends, it is again the summer. And because it is the summer, that means I have gotten woefully behind on sermon-posting. And so, it is time again for that summer custom, the Sermon Dump! Where I just post All the sermons, All at once, with minimal commentary, except where I absolutely cannot help myself. […]

Leave the Shiny Things at Home (my final sermon in Madison)

The readings for Sunday, July 7, 2019. My final sermon in Madison, preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, at the invitation of my colleague and friend, the Rev. Don Fleischman.

Good morning! My name is Jonathan Melton, chaplain at St. Francis House, the Episcopal Student Center at UW-Madison, go Badgers! For those keeping count at home, SFH is the 104 year old mission and ministry of the Diocese of Milwaukee. It’s always wonderful to be at St. Luke’s and to see so many familiar faces. If we haven’t met yet, I hope you’ll introduce yourself after the service. I say this every time I’m here, because it’s true: I’m deeply grateful for the friendship that St. Luke’s and St. Francis House have historically shared through the years – hopefully not one-sided, but on the SFH side highlighted by scores of delicious meals (I’m look at you, Diane Brown!) – and for personal friendships across seven years, with Fr. Don and others, gifts of God in this season. (I think you’ll like my successor a lot.)* It is likewise a gift to be invited to preach and preside this morning, to be with you as we worship the living God together.


This is probably my last sermon in Madison, at least before my family moves to Texas, where I have accepted a call to serve at a church near the neighborhood in which I grew up. Which for our practical purposes this morning means I tried really hard all week to think of a flashy, catchy intro to make this The Very Best One, to assure you from the outset that you are in trustworthy homily hands, and to assure me from the get go that I can count on the illusion of your fixed attention for the remainder of twelve minutes. 

But then I read the readings. And especially the gospel, where Jesus sends seventy disciples to proclaim the Good News this way: Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. It’s a shorter version of what he told the trial-run twelve just a chapter before: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.” 

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Take nothing with you. Travel light. But not just travel light, travel empty. Leave the shiny things at home. Don’t worry about credentials. Bring nothing to compete with, distract from, get in the way of, the message you’ll proclaim. So much for an entertaining introduction. But, wait, it gets worse. Travel vulnerably. Rely on the hospitality of strangers for your shelter, for your food. It all feels eerily connected to what Jesus will tell them later, in the garden, as the soldiers are closing in: put the swords away. Travel without violence or defense.

Clearly, Jesus was not a Boy Scout, compass attached to his belt loop or pack strap. You know, “Be prepared.” Or a gear guy. Most folks where I’m from are raised such that they count it a personal failing to be found without a pocket knife. Not Jesus. I wonder, is he Marie Kondo before his time? A worthy question. Maybe. But the instruction to leave the purse, bag, and sandals behind doesn’t seem to depend on whether these things bring the disciples joy. Why, then? To what end does Jesus send his disciples out this way?

Bring nothing to compete with, distract from, get in the way of, the message you’ll proclaim. And what is the message, do you remember? The kingdom of God has come near. Put the rest down. It’s the same logic that leads Paul to write in Galatians, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And again in 2nd Corinthians: 

It is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ
Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus’ sake.
For the same God who said, “Out of darkness let light
shine,” has caused his light to shine within us, to give the
light of revelation–the revelation of the glory of God in the
face of Jesus Christ.     

It’s weird, I think, how Jesus and the first followers of Jesus saw some things as distracting from their witness to Jesus that most of us don’t think that much about. Take for example the feast of Pentecost. Peter, preaching the church’s first sermon as tongues of fire spread everywhere and the whole thing comes unhinged, is chaos, so many languages; the people understand the words, if not at all what’s happening. And Peter begins that first sermon with those three stirring and immortal words, “We’re not drunk.” It’s only nine o’clock in the morning. Evidently, one reason to value temperance is that it might protect you from alcoholism, but another – and seemingly equally important – reason is that avoiding drunkenness insures that alcohol will not obstruct your witness, your ability to see and tell others about the work of the Spirit in the common life of God’s People.

Similarly, the first Christians took literally Jesus’ instruction to put away the sword. What gain of the sword could be worth the price of the witness they stood to give for the reign of the Prince of Peace?

Most obviously, and frequently, Jesus talked about wealth. Not only is wealth an apparently poor indicator of righteousness, except perhaps inversely (though not always), but it seems to warp a person’s ability to grow one’s trust in God.

The kingdom of God has come near. Put the rest down. Trust nothing else. How can a person make this proclamation with pockets full of shiny things that so clearly don’t believe it?

If you are like me, you are not even completely aware of all of the things you trust in place of trust in God. Bank accounts, privileges, knowing it all, having reading all the books, fancy clothes, nationalities – like Texan – true and false beliefs about myself. Which is to say, if Jesus is going to send us out taking nothing, if I am going to need to empty my pockets of all that I’m carrying before I go, and let’s say we imagine the line for emptying pockets like some better version of TSA, well, you don’t want to be stuck behind me in that line. It’s gonna take a while. I got full pockets. Some shiny things I’m partial to, others I’m oblivious of. That is, I don’t even know about some of the junk that’s in there. At least not by myself.

I wonder, is this why Jesus sends them out two by two? Or what does that accomplish? Put everything down, but pick up a friend? Maybe friendship is a source of strength and courage for the journey ahead, and surely it is, but what if friendship is also actually the one thing you pick up that empties your pockets of everything else you forgot – or neglected – to leave at home?

Here’s what I mean. Henri Nouwen, prolific Christian writer and member of the L’Arche community, was highly sought after as a speaker and teacher. Maybe you’ve heard of him. We could all stand to read more of him. Everywhere he went, Nouwen brought another member of the L’Arche community with him. The idea was partly pragmatic: L’Arche is a community in which folks with physical and intellectual exceptionalities live on equal footing with able-bodied folks. It’s the kind of beautiful and challenging reality that one can only talk about so much. The presence of a friend made the community present in a way Nouwen couldn’t accomplish alone, no matter how well he spoke about it. But the idea to bring a friend along, according to Nouwen, also had everything to do with making sure his pockets were empty, so that he didn’t try even subconsciously to exaggerate, impress, or misrepresent reality.

Nouwen knew the deep truth that you can’t know yourself by yourself. True being and belonging only happen in community, in holy friendships of vulnerability and trust. Nouwen brought a friend along in his travels because he believed that the presence of someone who knew the truth about him and the community would make him more truthful and keep his identity grounded in the community of faith through which God had shown him more of himself than he would have ever known alone, most especially the certainty of God’s love for him. Consequently, Nouwen would be less likely to idealize either himself or the community as people who did not regularly depend on mercy, forgiveness, and grace not their own for the good work of being present to one another. He would look for the way of God’s making, not his own. His proclamation would be less obstructed. It is not ourselves that we proclaim, we proclaim Christ Jesus… Carry nothing, Jesus said. But travel together, and together proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.

Who could have guessed that the intimate work of knowing another person and being known by other people in the community of faith has everything to do with being able to proclaim the truth that the kingdom of God has come near? That is to say, the hard work of community here, your perseverance in love with one another, ripples out, it overflows and goes out from here into the world. Which is another way of saying that our friendships are not our own. Even our most intimate friendships are gifts for the making known of God’s love in this world. 

Finally, then, if you were going to speak in front of others, like Nouwen, or visit a strange land, or make some other risk of proclamation, convinced of Nouwen’s insight about the gift of bring a holy friend, which friends would make your shortlist of those you’d want to bring along? Whose presence would communicate the life of the community and ground your being in the truth of God’s love? No more shiny things. All that put away. Trusting and delighting in God. Can I ask you, do these friends, who are gifts to you, know this about themselves, that by their friendship you know yourself more clearly in the light of God’s love, such that you can more nearly proclaim God’s love without distraction, self-deception, or fear? If you could share this news with your friends and then venture to ask them where they thought God might send you both next, to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, what do you think they might say? Vulnerable, empty, and traveling light, proclaiming our Lord, hand in hand with each other, to whom might God send you next?

________

It was really moving to be surrounded by the saints and sent off with prayer today at St. Luke’s, and to receive this icon of Luke, which is traditionally given to their graduates. I *guess* seven years is like a PhD in campus ministry! 😉 In addition to occasional supply visits, I spent 3 months with St. Luke’s during a time of transition in 2016, the first of 3 extended supply tenures to different Madison churches during my time at St. Francis House. I will cherish this gift, and God knows I carry the people of St. Luke’s in my heart in the season ahead.

* Funny because my successor is their current priest. haha Get it?? 

Objecting Conscientiously ,or, How Many People Can I Get Under the Constitution?

Mostly like Band of Brothers

So if the truth is going to be told, dear readers, I have always thought about entering the armed forces. For a long time, that just meant that I liked the idea of being in the military. Never thought much about what the job would actually require. And I may or may not have thought that I would be doing something similar to what I had seen in the World War II movies. Which is of course far removed from what military service is now.

I can’t be the only one who had those kinds of misconceptions.

When I got into high school, I was thinking very seriously about applying to the Reserved Officer Training Corp. And then my senior year happened, a lot of funny ideas got into my head, and I think I’m just lucky that I made it out of that year having decided I wanted to be a high school teacher (for a while there was this Bohemian Playwright image in my head… as if that isn’t about the farthest thing from ROTC). 

Anyway, the point that I want to make is that I have always liked the idea of the armed forces and serving the country and me being a part of that organization, but I never really thought much about the nature of armed conflict. Mainly that it is armed. 
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the guns themselves. I’ve used rifles and shotguns since I was big enough to do so. I’ve always been a bad shot (I still am, I still blame my bad eyesight and my glasses). It was always the idea of using firearms for killing. Not killing animals, I don’t have moral objections to hunting (well, no moral objections when you plan to eat what you’ve killed), but killing other people.
For a long time I thought of myself as a conscientious objector.
It was an odd coincidence that I had already enlisted when Hacksaw Ridge hit theaters. I had not finished my Army training, so I was watching that movie about a medic (I’m a medic!) who refused to shoot the enemy. I liked that. I thought there was something noble about that. 
However, I realized that it was just the idea that I liked. I hadn’t actually done anything about it when I was enlisting. If you actually want to be a conscientious objector in today’s military, you need to declare it and document it before you sign on the dotted line. I had not done that. And additionally, I think you need to get special dispensation to be a conscientious objector. Which (don’t quote me on this) could possibly be a dispensation only available to someone being drafted, which I was not. I volunteered for it.
So long story short, I’m not a conscientious objector. 
In fact, the Army has trained me to be very skilled at violence, as well as trained me to save the lives of victims of violence, whether it’s US combatants, non combatants, or enemy combatants (yes, the Geneva Convention does require me to render aid to enemy combatants… maybe I’ll do a whole separate post on my feelings about that). It’s a very strange sort of duality but this is me, dear readers.  What other kind of situation do you think I would have got myself into?
So where does all of this leave me?
When I took the Oath of Enlistment, I swore that I would support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And I’m actually enthusiastic about that. Back when I thought the whole military was like the WWII movies, I also knew that the point of the military was this Constitutional defense. And I am happy to be someone who serves his neighbors by doing that. It’s actually part of my decision to enlist in the Army National Guard; to interact with my neighbors day to day and be part of the community that I am defending. But I also want more neighbors under the Constitution that I can defend. 
(Hold on, because this is the narrative turn)

I want more neighbors under the Constitution so that I can defend them. I want those neighbors to be from all walks of life, including lives that originate somewhere other than the good ol’ US of A.

I haven’t been able to determine it for certain, but I do believe that I am in the minority of soldiers who want more people in the US who come from other countries, and who want to be citizens under the Constitution. Regardless of whether or not it’s the minority opinion in the military, I don’t talk about it much and neither does anyone else. However, the opposing viewpoint is very vocal. And what I’m guilty of is that those vocal opponents of immigrants and refugees look like me.

Because of who I am, what I look like (white, straight, male, heterosexual, able bodied, CIS presentation, etc), if I say nothing, people assume that I’m a lot more conservative that I am. People who look like me assume that I think like them if I don’t disagree with them or say nothing.

Using the term loosely, I’ve been a conscientious objector for too long. I’ve been holding my own beliefs in, taking solace that no, I don’t want to keep out immigrants and refugees; I don’t want to limit the rights and freedoms of LGBT+ citizens, citizens of color, female citizens. But I haven’t said a lot about it when it matters. That is, I haven’t said these things when people who look like me speak against them.

So once again I am coming to a place in my life when I realize that I can’t have it both ways; I can’t stay silent so that I’m part if the in-group, and just be satisfied that I believe in the rights and freedoms and justice for these underrepresented groups. I’ve got to pick my people and stick with them.

And I have to choose people. Always and every time, I will choose people over policy.

So armed conflict is not the only topic on which I now find I cannot be a conscientious objector.

I wrote a while ago about being an Advocate. I framed that post kinda like I was coming out of the closet and admitting what I thought about other people’s sexuality. I guess I’m coming out of the closet on more social issues now, too.

I don’t think I’ve done too well as an Advocate over the past four years since that last post. Or at least I want to do more. I want to use my social privilege to do more for my neighbors. All my neighbors. And the people who are not yet my neighbors.

Source: Giphy

Your Love is Like Yogurt (a wedding homily for Kate & Kevin)

Wedding homily for Kate Schneider and Kevin Sampson. The readings they selected were Ruth, 1:6-18, 1 John 4:7-16, and Mark 12:28-34. Additionally, they had read the following meditation from Madeleine L’Engle (from the Irrational Season):

But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take…It is indeed a fearful gamble…Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature.

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take…If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation…It takes a lifetime to learn another person…When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.

Dearly beloved, friends, Kevin and Kate,


To name the obvious, the watchword of the day, the watchword of this moment, is love.


Kate and Kevin, go ahead and look behind you, at these people. They’re here to witness love, but they’re also here because they love you.


People looking at Kevin and Kate looking at you, you came to witness love, but the truth about today is that your love for Kate and Kevin has shaped their imaginations for what love is and what it is to love. Each of you is a real part of the love they are about to promise to one another.


Weddings are unusual as church services go, because the readings aren’t predetermined. If they want to, the couple picks them. I have seldom encountered a couple who picked the readings as thoughtfully and conscientiously as Kate and Kevin have. The scriptures and meditation we just heard, read so beautifully, reveal something of the love the rest of you have shown them, to which you have opened them. You are the reason some texts jumped out at them and others didn’t. And the world of love reflected in what we just heard is pretty amazing. You get some credit for that.


But lest you get big heads about yourselves, you didn’t make it up, either. Someone else showed you, too. Sometimes they showed you in hurtful ways and you learned love by doing the opposite of what was done to you. But more often, I bet, something about the word someone spoke to you or the hand they extended to you or the silence someone shared with you communicated something of love that you received as a revelation of love. And it’s all being collected just now in a particular way, as the fire that burns in the hearts of the two pretty people at the center of this day. Their receiving love that you received and that was received before you by the people who made love known to you, in every generation, in each iteration, made new.


So Kevin and Kate come here today, as Madeleine L’Engle hinted, as participants in and not possessors of love. Love is active, comes to people, moves through them, too. We touch, receive, and share in love; we are always holding love that comes to us from somewhere else. Love has a source.


In this way, Kate and Kevin, your love is like yogurt. The two of you know as well as I do that it is not uncommon on the UW campus to come across students who make their own yogurt, and who want to see you do it too. It’s sweet, the determined enthusiasm of the yogurt enthusiasts. To make your own yogurt, you need milk and jars and, well, yogurt. This is where they always lose me. You need yogurt to make yogurt? If I had yogurt why would I need to make yogurt? But the yogurt you need is the starter, not the whole thing. In his letter, John celebrates the Divine as the yogurt that needs no starter, the source of the love to which all other loves belong, from which all other yogurt comes: “Beloved,” he writes, “let us love one another, because love is from God…God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” That love, like a starter yogurt strain, claims all the love that ever after comes from it. And so your love is a victory not its own.


In a commencement speech, that great theologian of the church Stephen Colbert said to a lawnful of college graduates, “You cannot win your life.” It’s the kind of thing that sounds true and sensible enough until some jerk cuts you off in traffic. Or you find yourself making a sacrifice that you know no one else will see. You cannot win your life. Not one of us gets out alive. If love is a victory not its own, then what is true of life is also true of love. You cannot win your love. There’s no doing love best, and certainly no doing love better than your partner or your parents or the privileged or the poor. Every victory of your love is a victory for all the loves that came before it and every love that follows it. Every victory of love is for the others. It’s true that love wins, but the victory of love comes not from vanquishing enemies, even on some days your spouse, but in celebration and remembrance of the source; in connection to and thanksgiving for the source.


Kevin and Kate, about that promise to love one another, the one you are both about to make, in the sacrament of marriage. My experience of you both is as people of the highest character and tremendous integrity. So – I’ll be honest – it is a little surprising that you would make a promise as risky, to use Madeleine L’Engle’s word, and as reckless as marriage. To promise love is to make a promise for which you cannot know beforehand what you’re promising. Except you do know you have promised to love. So you are committing yourselves, as far as I can tell, in the same way that improv comics commit themselves. They don’t know the lines or scenes ahead of time, but they promise to be generous players with each other and those around them. They know the only way to lose is to try to win the scenes. As stewards of a love you have received, give generously to one another and those around, forgive generously each other and those around you. Thank you for committing yourselves to love even what you don’t control, namely each other, and so becoming beacons for us all of the Love that is our home.

Amen.