Friday, February 24, 2012

e-vo for week of Ash Wednesday

Dearest e-votees-

Apologies for the late dispatch of this week’s e-vo. I hope and pray your Lent has begun well and you will be drawn up into the passion the death of Jesus and the good news of the glorious Resurrection over the next 40 something days.



6 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, NRSV

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. For 40 days (not counting Sundays) we are drawn into the passion of Jesus, Holy Week and the good news of Easter.

Lent in general and Ash Wednesday in particular are honest times. There is no place for pretense. One of the reasons that we are to pray more privately and give more privately and fast more privately is so that we are more focused on the gift or the discipline rather than how it stacks up to those of others. Jesus invites us to each, as God directs us, turn our hearts, our prayers, our faces and our disciplines to God.

This world we are in is passing away. Things decompose, get lost, get broken, get eaten by moths. When we focus on how much we have and flaunt it others will come and try to steal it. The world tells us that success looks a certain way. So much of Jesus’ message is diametrically opposed to the message of the world. Will we receive ears to hear and eyes to see?

Every day is a gift and pure grace from God. Every day we see the holiness and we snub the grace. God wants our hearts. Jesus said we fulfill the Law and the Prophets when we love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and when we love our neighbors as ourselves. This can only happen as a work of God blowing the Holy Spirit through our lives. Holy Spirit, blow.

God, draw us up into you. Bless our times in our prayer closets and our service out in the world. May you have your way in our lives and be glorified. Amen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

e-vo for week of February 15

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of Epiphany. It is the Sunday when we commemorate the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Each of the synoptic gospel writers show up in our lectionary. Matthew (17:1-9, year A), Mark (9:2-9, year B—this year) and Luke (9:28-36 [37-43], year C). 2 Peter 1:16-21 also mentions the Transfiguration and shows up on year A of the lectionary and is the only direct reference in the writings of Peter to any event of Jesus’ ministry that Peter witnessed. Interesting to ponder that of all the experiences that Peter experienced during the life and ministry of Jesus this is the only one that got such a mention. What was so profoundly meaningful about this experience to outshine all the others? What epiphany did the Transfiguration evoke in Peter?



2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Mark 9:2-9, NRSV

Questions that come to mind as we linger in this text:

• Why was Andrew (the fourth of the fishing partners) left standing on the chain-link fence?

• How did Peter know that it was Elijah and Moses?

• What in the world (or was it beyond this world?) did Jesus, Elijah and Moses talk about?

• Did the disciples make the connection with the Tabernacle of the Old Testament and God eventually coming to tabernacle with God’s people in Revelation 21:3?

• Did the disciples make the connection with the voice speaking from the torn open sky at Jesus’ baptism?

• Why didn’t Jesus want the Transfiguration to be revealed for a while?

• What did Peter, James and John hear when Jesus said “after the Son of Man had risen from the dead”? What did they understand?

This experience was vivid and memorable (see 2 Peter 1:17-18). This experience was beyond the normal experience (and not just for outstanding laundering abilities). This experience was transcendent and formative and unsettling and divine. This experience was terrifying and could evoke the “fear of the Lord” in all its many nuances.

Have you had experiences that were so vivid and real and transcendent and other-worldly and unsettling? If so, do you share them with others or keep them under your hat until an opportune time? Do these experiences make things clear and vivid or do they draw you up into the mysteries of God which can sometimes seem more like looking through a dim reflection in a mirror? What sense do we modern, practical, over-burdened and under-timed folks make of something like the Transfiguration?

A few assertions and thoughts that come to mind as we face the week ahead:

• We may feel like Andrew on the chain-link fence but God never leaves us nor forsakes us and Jesus has a penchant for fringe-dwellers.

• God doesn’t sever ties from the past so much as bring things to completion and fulfillment and moves on to fuller expressions and understandings (maybe that’s why Moses and Elijah were involved in this moment).

• There are all sorts of things we might like to know about God and God’s ways in the world. There are lots of details about Jesus to which we are not privy. They may be interesting but they aren’t necessary. God meets us reliably in water, bread, wine and word. In those places God says all that we truly need to hear.

• God can still speak through extraordinary visions, experiences and revelations. Should we be so blessed we should be grateful. We should never let our powerful personal experiences become some sort of litmus test for the faith of others. What may be crucial and formative for us need not be normative for others.

• What do we hear when Jesus says “after the Son of Man had risen from the dead?” What do we understand? The answers to these questions have a profound and lasting impact on who we are and how we make our way through this world and beyond.

• The Transfiguration is public-domain now. How do we let this experience shape us? How do we participate in this experience shaping the world?

God, draw us up into this deep, powerful, evocative and holy moment of the Transfiguration. Transfigure us so that we reflect your likeness more readily. Teach us to learn what it truly means to fear the Lord in the best sense. Help us hear your voice which calls us “beloved” too. Help us see your image in others and call them “beloved” too. Amen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

e-vo for week of February 8

Dearest e-votees-

We are drawing near the close of Epiphany. Ash Wednesday, February 22 this year, marks the beginning of Lent.

This text of Naaman being cleansed of leprosy shows up only twice in our 3-year lectionary cycle. It shows up on Proper 9 in year C (Sundays between July 3 and July 9 inclusive) as an alternate 1st reading and it shows up on Epiphany 6 in Year B (our current year in the lectionary). That means if your church stays with the lectionary and doesn’t use the alternates you will encounter this story once every 3 years. If your church doesn’t read all the appointed readings you could miss this text for years and years and years. That is truly unfortunate. This is a beautiful and powerful text so we will linger with it for our devotion this week.

I hope and pray that God has been revealed to you and through you in many ways during this season of Epiphany. May your baptism and the cleansing that happened there be ever apparent to you. You are a washed and redeemed and beloved and blessed child of God.



1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel." He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me." 8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, "Wash, and be clean'?" 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

2 Kings 5:1-14, NRSV

3 Powerful Threads of this text:

Thread 1. Baptismal connection:

Namaan is afflicted and considered unclean. This is the type of disease that could cause one to be cut off from the broader community. The king of Israel is disturbed to the point of death (tearing clothes was a sign of mourning) when he is approached about Naaman’s leprosy. The king rightly states that only God can truly grant life or death. Elisha, God’s prophet, sends word for Naaman to wash in the Jordan and he will be made clean. There is an invitation made for Naaman to bathe in the Jordan (where Jesus was later baptized). The act is so humbling and so simple and can only be understood through faith and trusting in the one who gives the invitation. Yet in this humble and simple act God takes us from death into life. Namaan almost missed the blessing as he flustered in a rage. How many ways do we rage and fluster about the simple yet deep and profound ways that God comes to us: water, bread, wine & word? Yet, as we enter into those places and are immersed in them we are made clean. Luther calls us to daily return to our baptisms. And so we, like Naaman, can shun our pride and our rage and our entitlement and remember with humility and peace and gratitude all that God has done for us through the life, death and rising from the dead of our Lord Jesus. That is what we are connected to in baptism. We are restored into community with each other and with God.

Thread 2. Promise was spoken from an unexpected place:

Naaman and the king of Aram were expecting healing to come from a position of power. The king of Israel was approached. How did they know to go looking in Israel? A servant girl, a foreigner captured as the spoils of war, was the one who pointed the way towards healing. She told Naaman to consult a prophet. Had Naaman listened more carefully he would have gone right to Elisha. Elisha inserted himself. Naaman now expected this powerful man of God to come and dote on him. Elisha instead sent a messenger and told him to “Go jump in a river!”. The places of healing and promise were the lips of a servant girl and the waters of the humble river Jordan. How many of us struggle with the form and the presentation more than the gift of the promise? Do we worry about who comes to see us more than what the one who does come says? Do we seek the attention of the power-brokers thinking we have merited their doting on us? Do we look for form and hype and show at the expense of the life-giving forms of water, bread, wine and word? God speaks to us often through unexpected places. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Thread 3. Promise came in the form of grace:

Naaman was a successful commander of the Aramean army. He certainly knew about authority and command structures. He knew about engaging a task and earning a deliverance, a victory and a prize. Naaman brings his skill set to the problem of his leprosy. He brings a letter and some extravagant gifts. He exerts the authority and influence available to him. He pursues the king and then the prophet. He is looking for some sort of task to accomplish in order that he might merit cleansing. He is trying to earn his restoration. But the king says no and the prophet says no and his servants say no and the waters of the Jordan say no. Cleansing in Naaman’s case comes as a gracious act that can only be received. Cleansing in Naaman’s case foreshadows cleansing in our case—baptism (and salvation). We are made clean by grace. We are saved by grace. God graces us with the means of grace—water, bread, wine and word. We may wish to earn them or augment them through our own efforts. We will not succeed. If we want to receive the promise we need to receive on God’s terms—by grace.

God draw us deeper into our baptisms. Open our lives to hear your good news from unexpected places. Drown our desires to earn and control salvation in the gracious waters of baptism. Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

e-vo for week of February 1

Dearest e-votees,

During this week is the time (counting from Christmas) when Mary would have been expected to bring Jesus to the Temple and present him and an atonement offering (see Leviticus 12:1-8 if you want to see all the ritual expectations). That is why we commemorate “The Presentation of Our Lord” on February 2.

There are assigned texts for this holy day. This week, for our devotional reflection, we will linger with the appointed psalm.



1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! 2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. 3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. 4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. 5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. 6 As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion. 8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! 9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed. 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Psalm 84, NRSV

One of my favorite encounters with this text was when I was about to have my first entrance interview with the folks at Luther Seminary. I had an appointment at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, CA. I got there early and had some anxieties to tend. As I wandered around I found a chapel. I went inside and these words were beautifully and deeply carved into the dark wood walls. I sat in the midst of these words and my heart was soothed.

I cannot read these words without being transported in my mind back to this defining moment.

There was a place for me by the altar just as there is for the swallow and her young. There was a place for Jesus in the Temple—a place where Mary could come and lay her young. There is a place for all of us in God’s courts.

Of course the reality is that the Temple has been leveled. The place that was thought to house God had the door torn off it from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. As Peter Mayer sings so eloquently ( “God is Loose in the World”. So we don’t really need to seek God in a chapel or a Temple or other concrete particulars—although there is a deep and abiding promise about God being found profoundly in Word and Sacrament. We can go out into the world with our God. We can be a doorkeeper or a footwasher or a faithful servant—a day doing that is better than a 1,000 days chasing after the things of the world.

Our happiness, better yet our joy, start when we trust the Lord. When we lean not on our own understanding (see Proverbs 3:4-5) God will straighten out our paths and help us know how to go. Jesus had remarkable and particular focus towards what God had called him to do. This granted him great freedom to be remarkably interruptible and to dwell in deep ministry moments with all of the wrong sorts of people. Might we know that paradox of incredible focus and gracious distractablity.

God, draw us up into your courts no matter where we find ourselves. Help us to make room for swallows and their young, tax collectors and sinners and all who might come seek asylum and comfort just as you have so graciously made room for us. Help us trust in you so very much that others can’t help but be drawn in. Amen.