Monday, December 21, 2009

e-vo for week of December 23

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray that this e-vo finds you happy and well. The wait of Advent is just about over and Christmas time is soon upon us. For some this means it is time to be done with work or school for a few precious days—a time to linger with loved ones. For some this means it is finally time to open up all the presents and see what has come by way of gift. For some this is a time when we get to be with family and friends we don’t see often enough. I hope and pray that all these times come wonderfully alive for you.

The appointed epistle for Christmas Eve also brings an anticipated time into focus.

Peace, Karl


For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11-14, NRSV

God’s grace has appeared in the form of the babe of Bethlehem. He came not just to reset the sin-o-meter that was ticking away in our lives. Jesus came to show us how to be pious in a way that is different than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus came to show us how to be free but not to use that freedom in service to our sinful desires. Jesus came to help us be upright and godly.

We are given time in our lives. From birth to death we have only so many days. During holidays we are given only so many days. Perhaps part of how God would have us bide that precious time is to give some away to someone or some cause that needs it. Perhaps we could read to a youngster—or serve in a soup kitchen—or lovingly listen to a story told for the fourteenth time by a dementia patient. It matters what we do with our time.

We are given gifts and blessings in our lives. We are equipped with gifts from birth, skills carefully cultivated over the years and resources from the generosity of others. In our lives we are given so many things. During holidays we are given so many more things. Perhaps part of how God would have us deal with all the gifts that come are way is to give them away. I am not speaking so much of re-gifting as much as blessings others with the blessings that we ourselves have received. Perhaps we could sing at a church service—or encourage and pray for a friend who is struggling—or give some of our piles of stuff away so others might be able to thrive more this winter. It matters what we do with our gifts.

We are given families and loved ones in our lives. By birth and by choice dear people become folded into our hearts. In our lives we are blessed with so many people who are crafted in the image of God. During the holidays we are blessed to gather for feast and fellowship with our beloved people. Perhaps part of how God would have us live as community is to embrace them and welcome the stranger. Perhaps we could set an extra place at our table and welcome the stranger—or perhaps we could dare to love the estranged member of our family—or perhaps we might move closer to the one we think has wronged us. It matters what we do with our family and our friends—and those who have yet to become our family and our friends.

God, you came into this world because we mattered to you. Help us resolve to live lives that matter. Help us carry ourselves in ways that please you and blesses many. Bless us in these matters. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

e-vo for week of December 16

Dearest e-votees-

May your quickly disappearing days of Advent be blessed and may your time around the manger this year be still yet more blessed.



And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Luke 1:46-55, NRSV

Mary and Elizabeth are together in Luke. They are sharing joy as they engage the pregnancy of the other. Elizabeth is one who is advanced in years and barren. Mary is rather young and not married. From the world’s view neither seem particularly significant nor likely candidates to bear such sons of significance as they did. Elizabeth will bear the Elijah (see Matthew 17:10-13). Mary will bear God incarnate, Jesus.

Both Mary and Elizabeth could be construed as lowly servants but God blessed them both. John and Jesus dismantle the power structures of this world through their lives, their testimonies and their deaths. Jesus does more of the same through his resurrection. The haughty are dethroned and the fortunes of many are reversed.

Promises made to Abraham and his descendants find fulfillment in and through John and Jesus; Elizabeth and Zechariah; Mary and Joseph. We, too, are Abraham’s descendants as we have been grafted into the promise. In John and particularly Jesus our hope and our deliverance is revealed.

God, we thank you that your power and your promises look nothing like those of the world. Your power conquers through love, humility and peace. Your promises come true--always. We thank you for faithful servants like Mary and Elizabeth. Help us to sing songs like Mary and allow you to have your way in our lives—all to your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

e-vo for December 9

Dearest e-votees-

As we draw near the halfway mark of Advent I hope that your preparations have been holy and good. I pray that the days ahead for all of us would be full of joy and lacking anxiety.



Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV

Paul offers three positive exhortations and one prohibition.

We are to rejoice. This is not the same thing necessarily as to be happy but we are to find joy. Not all circumstances draw smiles from us (Paul’s life was no bed of roses) but it is possible with God’s help to be joyful no matter the circumstance. That was Paul’s testimony. Would that it would be our testimony too.

We are to be gentle with others. This is not the same thing as being a pushover or a doormat but we are to approach others in gentle ways. Not everyone is as sturdy as they appear. They have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. That was Paul’s testimony. Would that we would see the frailty in others and treat them as the treasures fashioned in God’s image that they are. We are earthen vessels with treasures of immeasurable worth inside. So are our neighbors.

We are to seek our desires through God with thanksgiving and prayer. This is not the same thing as treating God as a divine gumball machine—pop in a prayer and out pops the desired result. Not every prayer gets the green light. Some are fraught with sin and injurious to us or others. Paul didn’t get his prayer to have the thorn in his flesh granted. Not all of our prayers will be affirmatively answered either. We are called to pray and be thankful but we do much better when we let God’s wisdom drive the answers.

We are not to worry. This is not the same as being inattentive and negligent and uninterested. We are to pour ourselves into life with passion. This draws us to have concerns and issues. This stokes our emotions and our cares. We are not served well when we let those things blossom into worry and anxiety. God knows our every need and will provide for us in all circumstances. That was Paul’s testimony. Would that we could speak those words too.

God help us rejoice. Help us make our way through this world gently. Help us pray with thanksgiving and humility. Help us not worry but trust that you will indeed finish what you began in us and will provide for us—all along the way—our daily bread. Amen.

e-vo for week of December 2

Dearest e-votees-

My apologies, last week escaped me. Here is a very belated devotional piece based on the appointed epistle text from last week.



I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:3-11, NRSV

These familiar verses are some of my favorite in all of scripture. They speak deeply of Paul’s deep affection for the saints at Philippi. It communicates the communal nature of doing ministry. It communicates that God’s grace is what binds us together. It communicates the sure and certain hope that God will complete what was begun.

How are we with our deep affection for our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus? Do we pray with joy constantly for them and their partnership in the gospel? Do we live in the reality that ministry is a communal venture or do we try to strike out on our own? Do we allow ourselves to be built up into the church with grace as the mortar or do we try to build on the shaky foundations of our own achievements and ambitions? Do we rest securely knowing that God will finish what God began in our baptisms or do we fret?

Paul’s prayer is one that suits us well too. We need to be a community founded on love. That love is not to be frothy and shallow but deep and abiding. That love is to be informed by knowledge and depth of insight. That growing in knowledge and wisdom is a communal venture as well.

As we wait for Jesus to liturgically come again in the manger and to definitively come at the end of all time to usher in his kingdom let us rest secure. Since our fates have been sealed by God’s grace we can dare to live lives of love, service and increasing knowledge. These things don’t save us—they are evidence that we have been saved. God began it and God will bring it to completion.

God, mold us into the people you would have us be. Help us love one another more than we could ever deserve because that is how you first loved us. Amen.