Saturday, July 4, 2020

July 4 e-vo

Dearest e-votees,


Today is our day set aside to celebrate freedom and independence here in the United States.  Our predecessors freed themselves from England.  They became a self-determining country.  But in order to bring this country into existence there was great harm exerted on the pre-existing residents as well as the enslaved people that were forced to build it.  We have a checkered past to be sure and this is a complicated day to celebrate.

What do we as Christians do with the freedoms that have been won for us by Christ for the sake of ourselves and others that are not fully freed?

Peace,
Karl

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Martin Luther said (in On Christian Liberty) 
  • A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none.  
  • A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
Let's step around the sexist language.  The point is that we are freed in Christ and are not subject to anyone.  We are "freed from..."

But we are called to use that freedom for the sake of others.  We are freed from having to earn our own salvations (which we could never do) so that we can use that freedom to be a blessing and a joy to others.  We are "freed for..."

None of us are wholly free.  We are in bondage to sin.  We don't have complete liberty to control ourselves, our circumstances and our destinies.  But many of us do have a large measure of freedom.  Perhaps we could spend some time today and in the days ahead reflecting on how that freedom could be used to bless and help liberate others who are not so free.

Blessings on your observances of July 4th.  Be safe, be grateful and be generous.

Friday, June 26, 2020

e-vo for June 26

Dearest e-votees,


This Sunday's gospel text is Matthew 10:40-42 where Jesus promises that even someone who gives a cup of cold (translators add "water" which is not in the Greek will not lose their reward.

Mark 9:41 talks about giving a cup of water (no "cold" in the Greek).

It got me thinking... 

Peace,
Karl

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The reason that a cup of cold water is such a kindness is that the culture of the Bible lives in the hot portions of the world.  Water or lack thereof is a matter of life and death.  Cold water on a stifling hot day is such a hospitable kindness.  There is a reason lemonade stands can maintain a profitable margin.

But what if you were trying to offer hospitality to someone in a very frigid environment?  If you were stationed at a research station in Antarctica and came in from the cold you might much more prefer a hot cup of coffee or hot cocoa (or one of those mixed drinks that start with "hot").

The reward or the blessing needs to fit the context.

In order to bless people well we need to know their context, their needs and their preferences.  In order for others to bless us well they need to know our contexts and our needs and our preferences.

There is need to know one another.  "Know" had a deep and intimate sense in the Bible.  In the garden of Eden Adam "knew" Eve and they had children.  We are called to grow deeply in relationship with one another.  We are called to know one another.  In that context of knowing we can bestow meaningfully in ways that we be assuredly appreciated.

God, help us know one another.  Help us get to know our neighbors.  Help us live generously and hospitably.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

e-vo for June 23

Dearest e-votees,


The epistle lesson for this Sunday is Romans 6:12-23.  It is worth a read.  I'd encourage you to pick up your Bible, give it a read, and then come back to this devotion.  We'll wait right here for you.

Peace,
Karl

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Paul asks the question:  since we are saved by grace (pure gift, can't be earned, can only be received) should we just go ahead and sin all the more?  In other words, since we can't earn our salvations and since God's grace is able to trump our sins how about we sin all we can knowing God will save us?

This is what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace.  Taking the cost of grace (not a cost that we paid, we can't but rather the cost that God paid through sending God's son to earth and the cost that Jesus paid on the cross) as if it were nothing cheapens and diminishes what God has so graciously done for us.

If we understand the magnitude of what has been done then we have a responsibility to live in response to that gift in ways that brings glory to God.  We are called to take up our own crosses and follow after Jesus.  We are called to regard the grace as a costly grace and treat it as the valuable gift that it is.

Deathbed conversions (hey, it seemed to work out for Dysmas, the thief on the cross next to Jesus), sly-winks to unrepentant sins, self-righteously declaring our sins to not be as bad as someone else's betrays our cheapening of God's grace.

Sometimes things come our way from benefactors that are so stunningly generous and costly that all we can do is in turn pay that gracious gift forward.  If we truly understand how God has forgiven us and set us free then we ought to be stirred offer that grace and freedom to others.  I think that was the point of Jesus' teaching about the unforgiving servant who moments after having a stifling debt forgiven turned around and choked out a fellow servant for couch cushion fodder.

The call on us is to live with an awareness of what has been bestowed on us by God's grace.  The call on us is to share that goodness with others who are not yet aware (or who were and forgot).

God, continue to pour your grace upon us.  Help us to find ways to live in response in ways that delight you and bless our neighbors.  Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2020

e-vo for June 19

Dearest e-votees,


Today is Juneteenth.  It is the celebration/commemoration of the final legal liberation of slaves in the United States.  It is a chance to take a sober look at our history and perhaps a more hopeful look at our future afterwards.

Peace,
Karl

------------

Slavery imagery has been used to talk about sin.  "We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves" and "Bondage of the will" and "Serving masters in our lives" all readily evoke slave themes.  

When Jesus came into the world to become one of us, to live the life we couldn't, to die a death he didn't deserve and to rise from the dead like no one has before it was to set us free.  It was to declare us slaves no more.  It was to put everyone on notice that the enslavement to our sinful selves and to the devil were no longer binding.  If you will, Easter morning was like a spiritual Juneteenth.

But it doesn't take much looking around this world to realize that the vestiges of sin persist.  Racism keeps people bound up in terms of economics, access to opportunity, housing options, likelihood of incarceration, likelihood of death at the hands of the authorities, etc., etc.  Even though Juneteenth happened as is completed in the past (think aorist you language studiers) the full realization of that freedom is not yet here.

There is a parallel in the spiritual realms.  We are declared free by God through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  But we can and do live in the vestiges of original sin, of willful sin and of systemic sin.  There is work to do.

We are called to long to see everybody free and to what we can to help bring that to pass.  We are called to long to see everybody spiritually free and to do what we can to allow God to bring that to pass.

We celebrate Easter and we celebrate Juneteenth.  I long for the day when the celebrations are fully realized in our lives and the lives of all.


God when the son sets us free we are free indeed.  Help us to know and to live that freedom to your glory and to the ends of helping all be free.  Amen.

ometimes we can look at the systemic flaws in other systems (government, other families, other denominations, other nations, other cultures) and be oblivious to, or worse yet turn a blind eye to, our own flaws, our own sins and our own devastating acts that traumatize or end the lives of others.
  • The Emanuel Nine were killed by Dylann Roof who was a member of an ELCA church in South Carolina.
  • Dennis Rader (the BTK serial killer) was a church council president of an ELCA congregation in Kansas.
  • Dylan Klebold (one of the two perpetrators of the Columbine High School shooting) was an ELCA youth in Colorado.  
It is easy to point to 9-11 and make disparaging remarks about Muslims.  It is easy to point out the horrific child abuse perpetrated and systemically hidden in the Roman Catholic church.  It is easy to villify others who do unthinkable acts and to call down judgment upon them.

The truth is that we, too, are a fallen people.  Given the right pressures, encouragements and opportunities we can condone, enable and enact horrific deeds.

Our ELCA church comes from the heritage of Germany.  Our beloved reformer, Martin Luther, wrote some despicable things that were used to support the grievous mistreatment and murder of millions of Jewish people by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.  We need to know and repent of our history.

All of this to say:  our hands and our traditions are not without blemish and culpability.  Our souls and our unredeemed selves are not without deep flaws and capacity to engage in horrible and dehumanizing behaviors.  We have sinned against those made in God's image in thought, word and deed.  By what we have done and by what we have left undone.  Lord have mercy.

We are at a crucial point in the history of race relations in this country and around the world.  Part of being on the right side of history moving forward is looking honestly at how we have been, circumstantially, unknowingly or with complete complicity, on the wrong side of history.

I don't expect we will have truth and reconciliation boards here in the U.S. as were brought to bear in South Africa during the dismantling of apartheid.   I do know, however, that there is a place for all of us to participate in truth-telling, truth-hearing and the reconciling that can ensue.

God, help us never to forget those who have been silenced by gunshots, nooses, knees to the neck, prevention of access to the voting booths and the broadcast microphones.  Help us give our broken selves and our complicity to you.  Stir us to be just, loving and full of life-giving reparation and repentance.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

e-vo for Tuesday, June 16

Dearest e-votees,


Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine.

The following is a description of the day set aside to commemorate them from www.sundaysandseasons.com:


Emanuel Nine, martyrs, died 2015

On June 17, 2015, Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Lee Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson were murdered by a self-professed white supremacist while they were gathered for Bible study and prayer at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (often referred to as Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina. Pastors Pinckney and Simmons were both graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. A resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance for the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine was adopted by the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 8, 2019. Congregations of the ELCA are encouraged reaffirm their commitment to repenting of the sins of racism and white supremacy which continue to plague this church, to venerate the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine, and to mark this day of penitence with study and prayer.


Peace,
Karl

------------

Dear e-votees,

Sometimes we can look at the systemic flaws in other systems (government, other families, other denominations, other nations, other cultures) and be oblivious to, or worse yet turn a blind eye to, our own flaws, our own sins and our own devastating acts that traumatize or end the lives of others.
  • The Emanuel Nine were killed by Dylann Roof who was a member of an ELCA church in South Carolina.
  • Dennis Rader (the BTK serial killer) was a church council president of an ELCA congregation in Kansas.
  • Dylan Klebold (one of the two perpetrators of the Columbine High School shooting) was an ELCA youth in Colorado.  
It is easy to point to 9-11 and make disparaging remarks about Muslims.  It is easy to point out the horrific child abuse perpetrated and systemically hidden in the Roman Catholic church.  It is easy to villify others who do unthinkable acts and to call down judgment upon them.

The truth is that we, too, are a fallen people.  Given the right pressures, encouragements and opportunities we can condone, enable and enact horrific deeds.

Our ELCA church comes from the heritage of Germany.  Our beloved reformer, Martin Luther, wrote some despicable things that were used to support the grievous mistreatment and murder of millions of Jewish people by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.  We need to know and repent of our history.

All of this to say:  our hands and our traditions are not without blemish and culpability.  Our souls and our unredeemed selves are not without deep flaws and capacity to engage in horrible and dehumanizing behaviors.  We have sinned against those made in God's image in thought, word and deed.  By what we have done and by what we have left undone.  Lord have mercy.

We are at a crucial point in the history of race relations in this country and around the world.  Part of being on the right side of history moving forward is looking honestly at how we have been, circumstantially, unknowingly or with complete complicity, on the wrong side of history.

I don't expect we will have truth and reconciliation boards here in the U.S. as were brought to bear in South Africa during the dismantling of apartheid.   I do know, however, that there is a place for all of us to participate in truth-telling, truth-hearing and the reconciling that can ensue.

God, help us never to forget those who have been silenced by gunshots, nooses, knees to the neck, prevention of access to the voting booths and the broadcast microphones.  Help us give our broken selves and our complicity to you.  Stir us to be just, loving and full of life-giving reparation and repentance.  Amen.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

e-vo for Pentecost

Dearest e-votees,


Today is the day of Pentecost (the 50th day after Easter).  It is the day of the church year that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church. 

The word for "spirit" in Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) is ruach (roo-ach with a Germanic sounding ch). That word is also the word for wind or breath.  It was ruach that God breathed into the dust in the garden of Eden in the 2nd chapter of Genesis.  It was ruach that was prophesied into the newly enfleshed bones in the vision of Ezekiel in the 37th chapter.

The word for "spirit" in Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) is pneuma (noo-mah).  Like the Hebrew the word can also mean wind or breath.  It is connected to our English words pneumatic and pneumonia.  It is the pneuma of God that Jesus breathed into the disciples who were cowering behind locked doors in the 20th chapter of John.  It is the pneuma of God that came to the early church in the 2nd chapter of Acts.

Blessings on your observance of Pentecost this year.


Peace,
Karl

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Worship planning and execution has shifted quite a bit during these times of COVID-19.  In the way we are doing things now worship has to be prepared in advance and recorded in its entirety.  This means that sometimes things change between when worship is completed and when it premieres on our Facebook page.  Generally this doesn't cause too much of a problem.  

The other challenge is that there are challenges and hiccups that occur because we are doing things in ways we haven't before.  I am on a steep technological learning curve and find all sorts of ways to louse things up--I'm nothing if not creative in that regard.  Fortunately the good saints of Messiah Lutheran are very gracious and forgiving.  Generally this also doesn't cause too much of a problem.  

This week both challenges conspired against me.  I was generating the worship service and was having problems with the musical prayer response (Dakota Road Music's "The Spirit Intercedes for Us").  I was trying to trigger that response after each prayer petition on our streamed worship.  Unforeseen complications ran interference which helped dislodge my focus on the prayers.  Not so helpful.

Secondly, the country has gone up in flames (literally and metaphorically) in response to the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the knees of the police.  It is fitting and good to be mindful of current events when bringing forth God's word (Karl Barth's idea of preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other) and the prayers of God's people.  

We have resources that are prepared long in advance.  They are vulnerable to changing times and circumstances as well.  One of the prayer petitions prepared in advance was:  

We call on your spirit of life, present in air, wind, humidity, storms and oxygen in our atmosphere, breathing energy into all things.  Heal with your breath the whole creation, especially those who struggle to breathe due to air pollution.  Lord, in your mercy... Hear our prayer. 

after some time to reflect and without the pressure of a looming deadline and annoyance of technical glitches here is how I should have revised that petition for this day:  

We call on you spirit (ruach, pneuma) of life, present in air, wind, humidity, storms and oxygen in our atmosphere, breathing energy into all things and all peoples.  Heal with your breath (ruach, pneuma) the whole creation, especially those who struggle to breathe due to:
  • air pollution and other environmental degradations

  • COVID-19 and other respiratory afflictions

  • knees of abusive authority figures crushing their windpipes
 Come Holy Spirit (ruach, pneuma)...
The spirit intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words to express.  Oh, oh, oh.

May your observances of Pentecost be blessed and life-giving.  May the spirit (ruach, pneuma) blow through you and your day with her life-giving whimsy.


Holy Spirit (ruach, wind) come.  Call, gather, enlighten and sanctify us to live and serve in ways that are pleasing to you and life-giving to us and to all.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

e-vo for May 28

Dearest e-votees,


One of the texts that is assigned for this Sunday (Pentecost Sunday) is John 20:19-23.  The disciples are hunkered down behind a locked door barricading themselves against a fear-inducing world.  They are unsettled and anxious and Jesus comes in to strike up a conversation.  


Peace,
Karl

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The disciples are hiding.  They are afraid of what might happen in the aftermath of Easter.  They have locked themselves inside trying to put distance between themselves and the world.  They are anxious and ill at ease.

Jesus comes through the locked door.  (so much for Jesus merely standing at the door knocking waiting for someone to open the door to him--see Revelation 3:20).

Jesus comes in and offers them a word of peace.  He shows them his wounds as proof that it is really him and that he has truly risen from the dead.

He offers them another word of peace and says that as he has been sent from the Father so he is sending the disciples as well.  He is sending them out into the world that they had been cowering from.

Jesus not only offers peace but breathes into them the Holy Spirit.  With that equipping he says that they have the power to forgive and retain sins.  The implication, as I read it, is that they are going out into the hostile world and are to bear forgiveness.  They are to follow Jesus' example from the cross of praying for and offering forgiveness to those who have sought to harm them.

We are living in a world that can seem very threatening (not just COVID-19 but that too).  It is reasonable to have concern and maybe even fear going outside the safety of our homes and churches.  We might well want to lock ourselves in and stay as safe as possible.  Jesus knows us and understands our hesitations and our concerns.  He cares for us and loves us to the core.

Jesus says to us this day "Peace".  Jesus will help us come to faith in his resurrection and to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Those words are for us to be sure.  But they are not for us alone.  We are called to bear that peace and the work of the Holy Spirit out into the world.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is alive and at well in us.  It brings us to faith.  It reminds us of all that Jesus has taught and stirs us to give compelling testimony.  It blows life into our fears, our shame and our existence.  We are made new and sent just as Jesus sent the disciples.
.


God, blow your Holy Spirit into us and through us.  Ground us in your peace and bless all the ways we can offer and share your peace and the work of the Holy Spirit in all our dealings with the world.  Calm our fears and be glorified in our lives.  Amen.