The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. You can spend your whole life contemplating this mysterious, beautiful one-verse summary of the ministry of Jesus. It is also a great theme verse for any kind of Christian ministry—including campus ministry. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us—weak, deluded, self-absorbed, sinful, sometimes well-intentioned, often confused, and always-drawing-closer-to-death human beings.
I had this verse before my eyes and in my mind as I served college students at Christ The King Lutheran chapel on the campus of Central Michigan University during the 2015-2016 academic year. Christ the King is a campus ministry partnership between Zion, Mt. Pleasant and the Michigan District.
The Most Important Thing
What is the most important thing we offer students at Christ The King? Is it a sense of belonging? Is it free food? Is it trips, fun activities, chances to serve others, or assistance in living morally upright lives? These are all good, and we do in fact provide them. But the most important thing we give CMU students at Christ The King is Jesus.
As a campus pastor, first and foremost my job is not to be a party planner, a nice guy, a smiling face, a counselor, a mentor, an event coordinator, or a travel agent. My call—my duty, my burden, my joy, my sacred responsibility—is to bring students into contact with the Word of God made flesh. This happened as my colleague Pastor Jonathan Bakker and I preached the Word of God, led worship, and administered the Lord’s Supper. All of the activity and fun and community flow from this source, and in turn support this primary task of making the Word made flesh dwell among college students in Mount Pleasant. Christian community starts in worship and certainly does not end there. The thing we all have in common is Jesus. We feed on Jesus together at the altar, and thus the Word is made flesh and dwells among us.
Us—college students, retirees, moms, dads, teenagers. In the sermon, Bible readings, and liturgy itself the Word of God dwells among us. Us—men, women, and children.
Up Close and Personal
It is a messy world full of messy people. That did not stop Jesus from dwelling among us. He got His hands dirty and His heart broken; He healed and forgave; and finally the sin of the world crushed Him on the cross. But that’s why He came. He came and dwelt among us, in our world. And it’s a sad, scary, messy, stinky place. Our students saw it up close and personal this year. I did too, but to a lesser degree.
“Our students”—those we see often and know and love—as well as “other” CMU students who do not regularly attend or visit CTK, came into contact with The Word of God made flesh through ministry at this place. Some students who fall into the second category visited CTK at moments of crisis in their lives. Sometimes that was just due to stress or anxiety. One young man came to pray after his brother ended up in a terrible motorcycle accident. A young lady once left an anonymous note in the pews asking for prayer because she was unmarried and pregnant and scared. On St. Patrick’s Day, some of our students and some other non-Lutheran Christian students shared the Gospel with a young partier as He stopped by our grilled cheese fundraiser. I baptized a young woman from another part of the world who was not a Christian when she began her studies at CMU. Believers and non-believers, Lutherans and non-Lutherans, Americans and Internationals all heard the word of God at Christ The King this year and were loved, welcomed, and cared for by church members, campus ministry students, and staff.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Us and our baggage and sins and “yuck.” Us and our anxiety, stress, mental problems, spiritual problems, sexual temptation, sexual addiction, self-medication, contemplation of abortion, drug use, alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, pettiness, pain, disrespect, vulgarity, victimization of others, and our own victimization at the hands of others. These are real flesh-and-blood problems that our students struggled with themselves, or which they encountered among friends and neighbors on campus. These things cause pain and worry. Thankfully, students are able to bring these flesh-and-blood struggles to their flesh-and-blood Savior.
We fed our students with the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Jesus multiple times per week. This word of God challenged them, convicted them, fed them, built them back up, and sent them out into the world. They came for prayer and pastoral care after encountering some of the above-named problems. In this way, our ministry at CTK brought the Word Made Flesh into the lives of young people, showing them that Jesus’ death and resurrection has everything to do with every part of their lives. And so they head back out into the world, equipped to share the love of Christ in word and deed.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. He knows sin and weakness. He knows the problems we face. Jesus, the Lamb of God, bore the sins and nastiness of the whole world. He took it all unto himself. On the cross He died for all of these sins. He rose again from the dead and leads us into victory. The benefits of eternal life start now in the present. Jesus gives us His Body and Blood every Sunday for forgiveness, life, and salvation. He forgives the sins of the previous week and strengthens us for another week ahead. This is true for students at CTK and also for the people of Zion.
This is the Good News we proclaim. Jesus has dwelt in the world and He has overcome the world for us. Through faith in Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, we overcome the world too.
Photo courtesy of Rev. Benjamin Ulledalen