A loving Letter to Baltimore,
and our friends at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church,
from Pastor Karen Brau,
Luther Place Church, DC.
September 22, 2019.
I write to you, Dear Amazing Grace Church, from where I now have served as a pastor for over 10 years, Luther Place Church, in Washington DC.
I have the honor of preaching each Sunday with four distinctive stained glass saints gazing at me — Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Harriet Tubman. These four prophetic leaders keep inspiring us ordinary christians towards God’s love and justice lived out with faith and courage.
I remember with deep gratitude, my time of formation and pastoring in your dear city for almost 20 years. The people of Baltimore and those who convened to create the congregation called Amazing Grace have evidenced that God is real!
The very making of Amazing Grace, which included the consolidation of 3 congregations within 8 city blocks of each other, was inspired by the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ! The dying of three long standing congregations, (Bethany, Trinity and Martin Luther) gave rise to a new way of being church.
I give thanks for your faithfulness and steadfastness, even through turbulent times.
I give thanks for how you gather around a welcome table in such creative ways.
And as Rachel Kurtz sings in her song, Make a Difference — you are a congregation who makes a difference, just as as Jesus’ life makes a difference for the world.
My prayer is that you all are able to Praise God for the rich way God has moved in the past, and that you find yourselves rooted and grounded in the generative quality of our God who continually makes a way out of no way.
I have been thinking about writing to you since this past summer, when an elected official who lives in DC, was caustic and demeaning in comments towards your city of Baltimore and the people who are part of the place where you serve.
I myself recall times when I saw rodents in our gardens in Baltimore.
I have stories of death on our streets of Baltimore.
I have felt the fractures that poverty and racism and addiction and violence bring to the surface of every day living in Baltimore.
And there is more life in Baltimore that one can see and hear and feel when one engages the lens of faith.
For the purposes of this letter, my issue with the public official’s comments are around motivation and impact, and then I wonder, “Where is God in all of this?”
Discerning motivation is not an exacting process, yet it seems in our current political climate, the public support of white supremacy gives energy to comments that de-humanize people of color and the places that they inhabit.
The impact of white supremacy is the hurt it causes. It sows division and hatred while supporting unjust, cruel and inequitable actions. It fosters oppressive institutions. On our southern border, it puts immigrant children in cages.
White supremacy distorts our understanding of grace, and as the Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught during his life in Nazi Germany, God’s grace can become compressed by humans to resemble “cheap” grace. That is the grace we give to ourselves, without any honest self reflection or repentance.
White supremacy peddles cheap grace.
Or maybe as Miss Thelma at Amazing Grace would call it — tissue paper grace.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, one of the questions I ask over and over is — Where is God in all this?
God is present in the resisting of white supremacy and in the un-making of what mistakenly places whiteness at the center of everything, including the ability to act and decide the actions.
God is present in costly grace — in its call to follow Jesus even into places of discomfort and struggle while courageously naming what denies the fullness of the Gospel and the incarnation of God.
This includes white supremacy.
Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. He was killed by the Roman Empire in a public execution.
Jesus was about changing how we view who is “in” and who is “out” of the realm of God’s love and God’s justice.
Jesus loved so much and so many. His loving was formed by a God who made us all in God’s image. And Jesus’ loving was shaped in part by the Hebrew prophets who talked about God’s priority for the poor and the hungry and the widow and the orphan and the immigrant.
Again, Rachel Kurtz sings about Jesus, “You healed the sick and fed the poor, you loved the prophet and the whore, through us you will do more, you’re the change.”
Jesus teaches us to love God, love neighbor and ourselves. These three loves work together.
The stories where we meet Jesus in scripture shows him reaching out to all kinds of people — including a woman who was bent over for 18 years who touches Jesus and stands upright; and a man who is a tax collector (Zacchaeus) who is so moved by Jesus’ message of love that he gives away much of his money and has Jesus over for dinner; and the children that Jesus called into his ministry of presence.
Healing and transformation happen in relationship with Jesus.
In days when people are deeply anxious and worried about so many things— we get to remind ourselves daily of God’s deep and abiding love for us.
In our Lutheran Theology, our God-talk, God loves us without our doing. God calls us beloveds before we can even speak, and God promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
It is our faith communities that help us to learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made and to work for justice and peace.
These words are familiar to us because they are our baptismal promises.
The life changing power of Jesus Christ is real, and we are invited by God every day to be part of a gospel faith that bears a substantive witness to love and justice in our world as it is.
We mostly learn this in congregations.
So again, I go back to offering deep thanks, Amazing Grace, for your faithfulness as an intentional multi-cultural Lutheran congregation, rooted in your East Baltimore neighborhood for over 20 years now.
You are attentive to your urban context.
You are are a place where faith grows.
You are a space where people are challenged.
And you are a congregation that grapples in word and deed with the way that white supremacy drains the grace out of the good news of Jesus Christ. I urge you to teach the ways of costly grace to your Lutheran co-workers.
I give greetings to your fine Pastor, Rev Gary Dittman, and honor him for his faithful leadership during his tenure as your pastor. Pastor Gary, during your ministry with Amazing Grace, you have served in times of deep struggle. The cross of Christ keeps showing up in East Baltimore. So is the resurrection. You have been present at times when the stone has rolled away from the tomb to find that the risen Christ is alive and on the loose in your midst. I encourage you to keep building a portion of the beloved community – it is a gift to the larger Lutheran Church as well.
I send greetings to the oldest living member of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, Mrs. Louise Edwards, as she approaches her 100th Birthday in October. I encourage you, Miss Louise to keep opening yourself to God’s deep love for you. You have offered so many hospitality into the Amazing Grace Community. You know the ingredients of forgiveness. Thank you for your years of serving with tenacity and loyalty.
I could call the names of so many more Saints of Amazing Grace — yet instead I offer a great thanksgiving for the ones who are still present and the ones who reside with the communion of Saints. You all have taught me that God is real.
To all, please take this as a blessing — some words from the hymn that you decided was your congregation’s name — Through many dangers toils and
snares, you have already come; its grace that brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home. Amen.