Wednesday, March 24, 2010

e-vo for week of March 24

Dearest e-votees-

We are almost done with our 40 days of Lent. As this time of discipline and focus and prayer comes to a powerful climax during Holy Week may all of our times and forms of worship and devotion be blessed.

The good news of Easter is that there is life in the face of death. The grave is not the end.

As almost a lectionary/liturgical reminder of the promise of life while facing death tomorrow, March 25, is the day that we commemorate the annunciation of Jesus. 9 months prior to Christmas (~ 40 weeks if you like to work in round, Biblical numbers) Gabriel visits Mary with good news of great joy for all the people.

This week we will use the appointed gospel text for the annunciation to shape our devotional time together.

Blessings on your Holy Week.



26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38, NRSV

Gabriel comes to Mary offering words of blessing and assurance.

Mary is perplexed and questioning.

Gabriel responds with words of assurance and promise.

Mary responds with questions and indisputable facts from her own life.

Gabriel responds with words of promise and accounts of miraculous events.

Mary responds with faith.

+ + +

Our lives and our journey through Lent and through Easter are shaped into the forms of Mary and Gabriel’s exchange.

God comes to us offering words of blessing and assurance. We are given great promises throughout scripture and from the very lips of Jesus about God’s abiding love for us and for all.

We are perplexed and questioning. We look at our own lives and don’t always feel so very blessed. We look in the mirror at our own lives and don’t always feel so assured that God will continue to love us. We find the need to turn from God and cower. Adam and Eve were the first in a long line of us who try to hide from God’s holy presence knowing sin and knowing sin in our own lives.

God responds with assurance and promise. In the very face of the death in our lives God offers promises of hope. Adam and Eve are provided clothes. Cain is given a mark of protection. Noah and his family are given a means of salvation in the ark. Joseph is blessed so that he might be a blessing to his people in the time of famine. Time and time and time again God thrusts life into the places where we have chosen death.

We respond with questions and with indisputable facts from our own lives. “But how can God love me? Surely God knows how far I have strayed.” “I am just a _____________. That can’t work into God’s plan.” “How can this be?”

God responds with acts of promise and miraculous events. In particular God will be killed on the cross. God will die speaking words of forgiveness and tending and promise. On the third day God rises again to deliver on those promises. What is thoroughly impossible for people is not only possible but remarkably accomplished by God.

We respond with faith. “Here we are God, Your servants. Let it be done to us according to Your word.”

Have your way with us, Lord. Bless our lingering in Holy Week and help us revel in the empty tomb. Amen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

e-vo for week of March 17

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed text for this coming Sunday is where Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, anoints Jesus’ feet and extravagantly prepares him for his burial.

May we be extravagant as well as we prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus’ triumphant entry, arrest, trial, agony, death and glorious resurrection in the upcoming most holy of weeks.




12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:1-8, NRSV

There are three accounts in scripture that explicitly mention Mary and Martha—this one, the death and raising of Lazarus and the dinner where Martha served and Mary sat at Jesus feet.

It is interesting to look at the references to parallel stories in different translations.

The NRSV would direct our attention to Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9. Neither of these account explicitly mention Mary or Martha but they tell of a very similar event in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper. In these accounts we are told that this anointing will be remembered and told wherever the gospel is preached.

The NIV would, in addition to the other two passages, direct our attention to Luke 7:37-39. This account has Jesus eating at a Pharisee’s house and talking to a man named Simon. Neither Mary nor Martha are mentioned explicitly. The woman who is doing the anointing is explicitly identified in the text and by Simon as one who has led a sinful life.

What to do with similar but not exactly matching texts? We could try to conflate them into one story. That would give us that Simon was a leprous Pharisee who owned a house and lived in Bethany. Perhaps Lazarus also owned a share of the house. Mary now has a sordid past that we were not so aware of before this conflation. Is the melding of such parallel accounts helpful to your faith?

Sometimes the study of scripture is like re-creating an accident. We have accounts from different witnesses. Different angles and perspectives help fill out the stories but also can be hard to collapse into one coherent whole story. Do you find these tensions engaging or disturbing?

What seems most important in this telling by John is that we have five main characters all defined pretty clearly:

Mary is again attentively engaging Jesus with reverence (as she was when parked at his feet when he was over for a meal).

Martha is again attentively serving Jesus (as she was when she was working the kitchen when he was over for a meal).

Judas is again looking out for his own interests and sacrificing Jesus' best interest in the process (as he did when he sold out Jesus for 30 silver pieces).

Lazarus is again lurking on the periphery of the party but involved in gathering the main characters for powerful interactions (as he did as he hosted the last party from the tomb).

Jesus is again taking events and conversations to a much deeper plane (as he does when we seek and listen to his words that still speak into our lives to this very day).

God, shape our days according to your will and your good pleasure. Help us live more deeply into the tensions and the accounts of scripture. Draw us more deeply into you and particularly more deeply into the passion of Jesus as the most holy of weeks bears down on us. Amen.

Friday, March 12, 2010

e-vo for week of March 10

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and trust that your Lent is going well. We are more than halfway done with this time of focus and discipline and preparation. Let us pray that Holy Week would be indeed that.



9 The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. 10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Joshua 5:9-12, NRSV

God provides for us all in stunning and miraculous ways. Some we know about. Some to which we will always be oblivious.

Manna was the daily food that was provided as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Every night the dew would settle and lift. Left behind was a white flaky stuff that tasted like coriander. This food sustained the people for years. It would go bad after a day so people would have to get their bread daily (or two days worth when Sabbath time rolled around). This provision was remarkable and holy and nothing short of fantastically miraculous.

But the time came when the miraculous was no longer needed. The people were able to work and till the land and so the manna train stopped running its route.

What ways are you aware that God has provided for you that are miraculous and extraordinary? Imagine how many you might not even know. God’s miraculous provision is much like the proverbial iceberg with only the smallest portion readily apparent.

Perhaps you are coming to a time when God is going to withdraw some of the more miraculous support and let you do what you have been training to do. Are you ready to live in the plains of Jericho? Are you ready to feast on the crops of Canaan?

Perhaps God would use you to provide extraordinary and seemingly “miraculous” support for another. Would you dare let God use you that way?

God, give us this day our daily bread. Help us be thankful for it no matter if it was left in the wake of heaven sent dew or purchased at the local store. Help us always set another place at the table for those who might be in need. Prepare us for Holy Week. Amen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

e-vo for week of March 3

Dearest e-votees-

This week are walking through the 11th-16th days of Lent. We are about a third of the way through Lent. Are you able to stay focused? Are your disciplines of prayer or service or almsgiving helping you prepare for Holy Week and for Jesus' coming again whenever that might be?

This week has some hard words from Jesus about not missing the call and the opportunity to repent. Will we let God turn us this day?




1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." 6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8 He replied, "Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' "

Luke 13:1-9, NRSV

Whenever great tragedies strike people want to find ways to blame the victim. It goes way back to the trials of Job. Supposed friends say things like "Well, these kinds of things don't just happen. Surely you must have done something for God to allow this to happen." People offer "helpful" insights to assault victims like "you really can't go walking there at that time wearing those clothes and expect to be left alone". Televangelists have had a field day blaming libertine New Orleans for Katrina; devil-worshipping Haiti for the devastating earthquake; and who knows what Chile did to invite their cataclysmic quake. Jesus rebuffs this kind of thinking when he hears of Pilate mingling the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices and when he talks of the tragedy of the tower of Siloam crushing eighteen people to death.

Jesus suggests that these tragedies that happen ought to remind all of us that we deserve punishments at least that severe. There is a time and need for repentance. Jesus tells his hearers that time is now. Our liturgical rhythms remind us that time is now.

Rather than justifying why others deserved the things that came their way we all would do well to reflect on our own failings and our desperate need for God's forgiveness.

The good news is that God has done what we cannot. As Pastor Craig said in his sermon this past week. "Grace and the law came together a long time ago in Jerusalem--and grace won." As we repent we allow God to turn our hearts to places that we have shunned. In facing our failings true healing can begin. In facing the cross true healing can begin.

God, spare us from devastating tragedies. Use us to minister to those who were not spared. Help us not judge others in their pain but rather love them. If we forget what that looks like then please turn our thoughts to Jesus on the cross breathing forgiveness, restoration and hope until his last breath. Amen.