Thursday, October 24, 2013

e-vo for week of October 23

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday many churches will be commemorating the beginning of the Reformation. This was a time when some of the uniformity of the church (the stillness, if you will) was called into question bringing about a measure of discord, rancor and clamor.

May God speak to us this day about a lasting peace, a disciplined stillness and a sure foothold in a slippery and, at times, treacherous world.



1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 46, NRSV

When 9-11 happened our local group of Lutheran clergy decided to have a prayer service. Each of the participating pastors were invited to choose and expound upon a Biblical text. Psalm 46 was the text I chose. I was struck by the images of tottering nations and fomenting seas. Bows and spears and shields had appeared on that terrible day to have won. Yet we rested on the hope that the battle was not yet over.

God can bring to an end the implements of war. The terrible injuries we inflict on one another do not have the last say. The clamor of our sin-stained existence cannot drown out the still waters that the Lord who is our shepherd leads us to.

Our temptation is to fight back with larger implements of war. To strike deeper and harder at the ones who injured us. We will drown out the cries and the shouts of our enemies with angry, hate-filled cries of our own. We will make sure to rain down trouble that far exceeds that poured down upon us.

But God's ways are not our own. We are invited into a stillness to know that God is God. We are invited to regard the one who like a sheep was silent going to slaughter. When his followers brandished ear-severing swords and promises to fight to the death he said "no", healed the ear and went obediently to a end of the spear. God has broken the bow. God has been exalted among the nations (but his exaltation looks much more like a serpent dangled out in the desert rather than a conquering emperor).

God is very present help in trouble precisely because Jesus has entered fully into our troubled world. God is in the midst of us and our city. No matter what befalls us, it befell Jesus first. No matter what comes our way it cannot separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

If there is any fear to be had it ought to be the fear of the Lord (reverent awe as much as terror) and that is the beginning of wisdom.

God, draw us to be a God-fearing people. Bring us to places of reverent stillness. You, Lord of hosts, are with us. You, God of Jacob, are our truest and surest refuge. Amen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

e-vo for week of October 16

Dearest e-votees-

1. Many of us aren't as prayerful as we would like to be or think we ought to be.

2. Many of us get discouraged when our prayers seem to go unanswered or are answered contrary to how our wisdom would dictate.

Jesus offers a parable about the importance of praying always and not losing heart. Perhaps this parable is for many of us as well.



1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8, NRSV

First things first, God is not particularly swayed by the frequency or the fervency of our prayers. We don't do prayers as a spiritual onslaught hoping to overwhelm God and get things moving our way by sheer force of will. Jesus teaches clearly that it is good to pray consistently (I believe “without ceasing” is how it is phrased in 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and without being discouraged. But this is not because God is hard of hearing or slow to respond.

The line of reasoning or rhetorical move is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If even A (which is clearly inferior) can manage this how much more will B do even so much more. Perhaps you've heard or said things like "You know, if your three year old brother can keep his room clean, certainly you should be able to as well." Jesus did the same sort of move in Luke 11:11-13:

11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Jesus argues that if this unjust judge who self-admittedly neither cares about God nor people but is willing to grant this nattering woman's request just to keep the peace then how much more will God desire to grant justice to this woman? Justice is coming to this woman and to all through the work, life, death and resurrection of the one telling the parable.

The truly cryptic part of the gospel lesson for this Sunday is verse 8b: And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Jesus has come and will come again to bring justice and mercy to this world. This is decided but the possibility of faith being present or not seems to be still up for determination. What might be done in order to stir faith? Certainly we can't bring about faith through sheer force of will or willing suspension of disbelief. It comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. If we don't have the Holy Spirit to the measure we think we should perhaps we should ask our heavenly Father who gives good gifts to God's children. Perhaps this is some of what we should be praying for always. And since we know God will answer this prayer in the affirmative we don't lose heart. The answered prayer for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit will surely not leave us bankrupt in the faith department.

God, continue to make us your children. We thank you for the good gifts you give us, particularly the Holy Spirit. Stir us to fervent and frequent prayer in response to your great love. Amen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

e-vo for week of October 9

Dearest e-votees-

Jesus, in our gospel text for Sunday, is straddling two worlds. He brings healing and the response of the faithful is to bring worship.



11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:11-19, NRSV

Jesus straddles two ways of being. He is God, divine creator. He is human, one of us. He knows our broken places and our pain and offers healing to those who suffer. He longs to reunite into relationship with the full community of the divine. Jesus brings both his natures to bear in the healing work he does for the world.

We are members of a broken and fallen race. We get sick and die. We mistrust and hoard. We allow pride and position to win the day over humility and gratitude. Our appointed OT text with Namaan the leper reveals our resistance to being healed if it doesn't come on our terms. Our gospel text reveals our resistance to bringing thanks and worship. We are mired in our sinful nature but Jesus comes to liberate and to draw us into the community of the divine.

The ten in our gospel text knew the rules: stay far away, tear your clothes, ring your bell, cry out "Unclean! Unclean!" They seem to have found fellowship with one another even though apparently they weren't all Samaritan and they weren't all Jewish. The fellowship of the broken trumps the petty divisions of those who deem themselves whole. Together this group of misfit men cry out "Jesus, master, have mercy on us!"

Jesus knew the rules: stay far way, don't contaminate yourself with the unclean (the lepers nor the Samaritan). Jesus would have been justified (and ceremonially clean) by passing by without stopping. But Jesus straddles two worlds. Jesus wouldn't let these men stay unclean. He tells them to show themselves to the priest. In their obedience (and in their faith?) they are made clean. God's mercy trumps even God's rules (or those rules purported to be of God).

One of those healed realizes what has happened and returns with praise.

Have we been healed?!? (yes)

Have we been made clean?!? (yes)

Have we been restored into community?!? (yes)

So will we be part of the 10% or the 90%? Will we offer the tithe of our gratitude?

God, you have healed, cleansed and restored into community our diseased, dirty and isolated existences. Give us grace and wisdom to bring you praise. Amen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

e-vo for week of October 2

Dearest e-votees-

There is what we do as Christians.

And there is why we do what we do as Christians.

Our motivations are so very important--perhaps as important as whatever it is we accomplish.



5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Luke 17:5-10, NRSV

There are tasks and projects for us to be about. There are callings on our lives (vocations). There are opportunities to be grasped. There are lives to be touched. There is good newsing (evangelizing) to be done. There is loving (of God and of neighbor) to be brought to bear. If Francis of Assisi was right that we should preach the gospel using words if necessary then we should be about the business of preaching the gospel with actions and, when necessitated, using words.

How that looks in your life and in your setting is something for you and the Holy Spirit (and perhaps some trusted friends) to discern. God has things for you to be about as a Christian. Let us leave that as it is for now.

Why do you do the things you do as a Christian? Is it to merit favor with God? Is it to show the world what a good follower of God you are? Is it to show other believers what a good follower of God you are? Is it in order to garner recognition and appreciation? Is it a way to say "thank you" to God who has restored and saved you? Is it because God has made it clear to you some of the things you ought to be about with your time, your talent and your treasures?

We cannot earn or merit favor with God. What we get from God comes as pure gift. To attempt to earn what God freely gives diminishes the cost and the nature of the gift.

If we are concerned about what others think of us (inside or outside the church) we are chasing after things that are elusive and stained with sin (our efforts and their approval).

If we are working to earn thanks and recognition we have bought into the package the world sells about Who's Who? and trophies for every competitor and class rankings and brass plates with our names inscribed. Trophies and ribbons and rankings are fleeting and as subject to decay as our very bodies. My sermon text for this week is "The Gift of Thankless Service." If we put aside the need for thanks and recognition we are free to focus our attention more fully on the matters at hand. It has been said that it is amazing what we can accomplish when we don't worry about who gets the credit. This is at least as true in spiritual matters as it is in those of the world.

Our lives are an opportunity to say "thank you" to God. If this motivates us to live into the callings God has put on our lives so be it. If we do what we have been told we ought to do then we can respond as Jesus said "We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!" Our motivations that come from a sinful place need to die (along with old Adam or old Eve) so that we can serve in ways that truly say thank you and abide in God's expectations. That is some of what Luther meant as he talked about returning to our baptisms (our spiritual drowning and rebirth) daily.

If we know why we are responding to God's callings than living them out is so much more richly engaged.

God, bring your callings to bear and give us right motivations. Increase our faith and help us do that which we ought. Amen.