Wednesday, December 26, 2007

e-vo for week of December 26

Dearest e-votees-

Blessed Christmas to you all. I hope and pray you are surrounded by friends and family sharing laughter and joy and making memories to savor for the days to come. There is something rich and memorable and deeply life-sustaining about being present among loved ones. The memories of those times carry us through the times when we are not together or the laughter doesn’t come so easily or the joy is a little less palpable.

Our Old Testament text suggests that God also is in the business of creating rich and lasting memories through God’s own saving presence. Let us join with Isaiah in offering praise to the Lord.

Peace and Christmas joy,



I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely"; and he became their savior in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Isaiah 63:7-9, NRSV

Clearly this verse is part of our Christmas lectionary readings since it talks about God becoming our savior. No messenger or angel will do but God’s own very presence comes to bring salvation. That is the summary of the child in the manger.

God comes and redeems us. He lifts us up and carries us. For many the words of the poem Footprints have communicated God’s love. That image of one set of footprints while God is carrying the one through the hardest times of life resonates with this Isaiah text. It is not hard to connect this sense of God carrying our burdens to Jesus taking his cross up to Golgotha in the ultimate example of God bearing our burdens. We are still God’s people. God still lifts us and carries us in new days and challenges as well as in days of old. For that we should praise and honor God.

God showers us with mercy and grace and steadfast love. That release and acceptance is life-giving. Perhaps we can be instances of that same release and acceptance as we encounter people—friend and family; stranger and visitor; those easy to love and those more curmudgeonly. (Grinches and Scrooges and, truth be told, some of us need some extra love and patience). Life is found in the restoration and the forgiveness.

Lest we get swept away by the tinsel and the egg nog and the new stuff we found under the tree--this is also the week the church commemorates the slaughter of the innocents. The babies that were snuffed out as part of Herod’s rage are a reminder to us all that Christmas looks at least as much like a cold and mean stable with all the very real threats as it does the images that often capture our imaginations. There is a powerful distress in the world. We still need God’s saving touch. Don’t forget that Jesus’ name means “he saves”.

God, thank you for the many joys and mirthful times of the holidays. Help us to drink of them deeply that we might be sustained and be sustainers for others during the lean times. Help us to love all, forgive readily and praise you often. Continue to bring your loving and saving presence into our lives. Thank you for the one born in the manger. Help Jesus be born in our hearts this day. Bring your saving work to bear on us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

e-vo for week of December 19

Dearest e-votees-

One of my favorite quotes of St. Francis of Assisi is:

Preach the gospel, use word if necessary.

Today we see that borne out in Mary, the mother of our Lord.




Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25, NRSV

We have been using the worship liturgy “Holden Evening Prayer” by Marty Haugen for our Wednesday worship services in Advent. The whole service is beautiful but I am particularly drawn to the Magnificat where Mary sings of her joy in response to what God has done through her. The source material for that song comes from the gospel of Luke.

As I was working on this e-vo I was wondering what Matthew recorded from Mary around the birth of Jesus. There are no words from Mary. We have no exchanges with the angels. No visit to Elizabeth with the accompanying conversation. In fact the only words I can find attributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus, throughout the entire gospel of Matthew is an indirect quote in Matthew 12:46-50 when Mary and Jesus’ brothers wanted to speak to him.

Mary seems to find little use for words in the gospel according to Matthew. Or Matthew didn’t seem to find it necessary to record the words she did utter. Words may not have been necessary but the gospel was certainly preached by Mary.

The word gospel literally means good news. It comes from the Greek compound word eu + angelos ( “good” + “news or message” ). It is the root of our word evangelical. Mary preaches good news. Mary preaches the gospel.

Through her participation in this holy virgin birth good news is brought into the world. Jesus comes and is connected with the name “Emmanuel” which means “God with us”. That is the good news for all. God has come to be with us. God has come to restore us. God has come to bear what we cannot. God has come to heal and to judge and to reconcile and to die and to rise again. None of that could have happened save for the gospel preaching of Mary through her willing and humble heart.

This good news is for all. God came to be with all. God came to restore all. God came to bear what all of us could not. None of that could have happened for anyone save for the gospel preaching of Mary through her willing and humble body.

There is a world that desperately needs to encounter the gospel. Some of us are more able to share that with words—thanks be to God. Some of us are more able to share that with humble and willing hearts—thanks be to God. All of us need to know that God is with us and that God wants all who would come to join us at the table of God’s mercy and grace and love.

Have a blessed Christmas. Savor the good news. Offer up a prayer of thanks for Mary. Be open to how God would speak through your life.

God, continue to preach the good news to us and through us. May our words and the meditations of our hearts and every act of service rendered in your name be pleasing in your sight. Amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

e-vo for week of December 12

Dearest e-votees-

I have started posting e-vos as a blog. For those who are so inclined you can receive them through a
Feedblitz subscription by going to and clicking on e-vo.

If you wish to keep receiving them through direct e-mail do nothing and I will keep sending them.

I pray that your Advent is going well.



When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Matthew 11:2-11, NRSV

This exchange between John’s disciples and Jesus (parallel account found in Luke 7:18-23) is striking.

John who recognized Jesus in utero and leapt for joy… (Luke 1:39-45)

John who recognized that Jesus was coming and declared he wasn’t worthy to even loose the ties on his sandals… (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16, John 1:27)

John who declared that he must decrease that Jesus might increase… (John 3:30)

This same John who now sits in prison after calling King Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife—not long for this world—seems to be trying to understand if this Jesus is who he thought.

Do we find ourselves in a place like John?

Have we had a faith for many years—as far back as we can remember—that maybe doesn’t seem to serve as well as it once did? Are we wondering about this Jesus?

Have we taken a bold stand against something that is patently wrong and found ourselves in a precarious place as a result? Can we hear the dance music of Herodias firing up? (see Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:17-29)

Have we been languishing in a cell or in a rut or in a situation that looks like it will be our lot from here on out? Do we wonder why we have been relegated to this fate and wonder what has become of this Jesus that we had greeted with such high expectations?

It is striking that Jesus—the one who would go on to spring the dead from their graves—chose not to spring John from Herod’s prison cell.

It is striking that Jesus—the one who would open the eyes of the blind—didn’t do more to open up John’s eyes to the nature and reality of the coming kingdom.

It is striking that Jesus—the one who brings good news to the poor, release to the captive and justice to the oppressed—leaves John languishing in bad news and wrongly imprisoned.

How do we make sense of such things?

How do we make sense of the things that press in on us that seem just as unfair and unjust and imprisoning and discordant with a gracious God?

Perhaps that is what we wait for in this tension between the first advent of Christmas and the final advent at the close of the age. It doesn’t all make sense but Jesus’ response is to tell the disciples to testify to John about the changed lives that they see. Perhaps we need to testify and to hear testimony particularly when we are feeling unsure, despondent, cut off and at the end of our rope.

God, stir up faith in us as we wait for the final reconciliation. Help us to know your healing and to be proclaimers of your healing and to be agents of your healing. Amen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

e-vo for week of December 5

Dearest e-votees-

May we be blessed as we continue to prepare and wait for our liturgical celebration of Jesus coming in the manger—Christmas.

May we be blessed as we continue to prepare and wait for our Lord to come that one last time to bring the end to the age.

For this week we will hone in on part of the appointed second reading for Sunday which reminds us of the hope we have in Christ.



For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:4-6, NRSV

These few verses communicate powerfully about hope.

We abide in the scriptures that we might be encouraged and find hope.

Paul writes about his hope for harmonious community.

Paul writes about hope for a unified voice offering glory to God.

This hope we have in Christ is subject to attack by forces interested in other outcomes.

If scripture is a place for encouragement and hope then perhaps there is one who would rather we not read it. Our time is so tightly scheduled that it is hard to find time for disciplined study of scripture. Our worlds are so noisy that is hard to find a quiet place to study scripture. Our world is so self-sufficient and post-modern that it is hard to find an open mind and an open heart to study scripture. But God’s word will not be contained by our distractions. God’s word does not return void but accomplishes its purpose (see Isaiah 55:10-11). God’s word is living and active and still divides to bone and marrow (see Hebrews 4:12). There is one that would rather God’s word would stay in a box. But that didn’t work with the cross and the tomb and that won’t work today either.

If community is a place of encouragement and hope then perhaps there is one who would rather we not abide there. We are taught to look after our own needs to the point that we neglect others fashioned in God’s image. We work so hard to raise our voice over the din of the world that we drown out the voices of others. We try to be so self-sufficient and post-modern that we close our minds and hearts to others. But God will not let us abide that way. Jesus came to bring reconciliation to God and to others. If we get too close to scripture it will beckon us close to others as well. There is one that would prefer to divide and conquer us but that one has been defeated through the work of the cross.

If gathering together in worship is a place of encouragement and hope then perhaps there is one who would rather distract our worship. We are taught to seek having our own needs met in worship to the point that the worship of others might well be diminished. We work so hard to hear worship in the forms of words and music that appeal to us that we can mute the worship others need to hear. We try to be so self-sufficient and post-modern in our worship that we lose sight of the one we worship. Jesus came to bring life through his death. God in the flesh came to save us. All of us are called to worship this one. In that worship is found encouragement and hope. In that worship the work of the distracting one is undone.

God, shape us into people who hope in you. Bless our time in your word. Bless our ways of making community. Bless our worship. Help us to reject the one who would run interference of the holy and hopeful work of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 3, 2007

e-vo for week of November 28

Dearest e-votees-

This week is the first week of the new church year. We are entering into the season of Advent. Our readings have two distinct strands.

The Romans text and the Matthew text talk about lightness and darkness, being watchful and being ready, living well and living not so well—powerful Advent themes. No doubt you will hear of such things from the pulpit this Sunday.

The Psalm and the Isaiah texts have another strand. They talk about going up to Jerusalem, going to God’s house, experiencing instruction and judgment and offer images of peace and reconciliation.For today we will linger with the second strand.



The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Isaiah 2:1-5, NRSV

Physically Jerusalem is up on a hill. That is why the man who was tended by the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:30-37) was going down to Jericho from Jerusalem. The term song of ascents is used for Psalms such as ours for this Sunday which speak of physically and spiritually moving up into the presence of God. The temple mount was the highest point in the city of Jerusalem (before the Romans came in and constructed the menacing Antonia Fortress to keep a watchful eye and a clenched fist). People came up literally and figuratively to bring worship and to encounter the living God.

The words from Isaiah are very closely echoed in Micah 4:1-5—you might want to check out the similarities. These images and exhortations are worth pondering. The Holy Spirit found them worth reiterating. Might we linger with this scriptural refrain?

Where is God’s mountain in our lives? Many of us don’t find it part of our regular practice to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem (although if you get the chance to go, grab it). So where is it that we figuratively and perhaps literally ascend into God’s presence? For some we find retreat settings (Holden Village, Bible camps, wilderness) as potent places to enter into God’s presence. For others times of devotion and prayer are that place. Stephen Curtis Chapman’s song The Mountain speaks of our need to dwell on the mountain and to descend back into the world to serve. Our home congregations should be places such as these.

What is strikes me again is the invitation to others to join together and ascend into God’s presence. It is compelling and winsome when others beckon us. When we can’t find the strength or motivation to ascend to God others can remind us that God—first and foremost—descends to us (never forget Philippians 2:5-11 aka the Christ hymn). Is there someone we should be reaching out to with a winsome and sincere “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord!”?

God, draw us up to you. Help us finds ways and places to enter into your most Holy presence. Use us to invite and encourage and welcome others into your presence—a place of comfort and instruction and judgment and grace. Be with the troubled city of Jerusalem that still bears the marks to this day of clenched fists and more tightly clenched hearts. Bless the on-going efforts in Annapolis and beyond that peace might come to those who dwell near your holy city. Amen.

e-vo for week of November 21

Dearest e-votees-

Greetings from Portland!!! I have relocated to
Resurrection Lutheran Church in Portland, OR. You might want to add to your address book to help avoid future e-vos being caught by your spam filter.

For this week we will look at the appointed second reading for this Sunday—Christ the King.


May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:11-20, NRSV

This is a wonderful text to consider as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and as we wrap up our liturgical year this Sunday. December 2nd is the first Sunday of Advent as our liturgical year begins anew.

The idea of a visible bearing the invisible is potent. The word for image in the Greek is the root of our computer word icon. That clickable image on the desktop grants us access to an otherwise hidden program or a collection of information. Something visible and accessible opens the door to something otherwise invisible and inaccessible. Jesus serves as an icon for God the Father. Jesus comes into this world to touch and to speak. Jesus comes into this world to restore and rescue. Jesus comes to beckon and to engage. When we touch and hear we connect with God. When are restored and rescued we are reconnected with our compassionate God. When we respond and engage we are interacting with the living and loving God Jesus came to bear.

When you see a Thanksgiving feast before you this week, let it serve as an icon of the bounteous provisions from God of time, talent, treasure, grace, mercy, love and joy. Let the visible food bear the sometimes harder to see steadfast provision from God.

When you see water in the baptismal font as you worship this week and taste the wine and bread at the Lord’s table, let them serve as icons of the grace and mercy bought for us by Jesus. Let the visible tangible elements bear the sometimes harder to see faithful promises from a loving God.

When you are reminded of Jesus’ death on the cross in this Sunday’s gospel lesson let it bring to your mind the temple curtain that separated the people from the presence of the living God. Let the visible curtain tearing bear for you the sometimes harder to see reconciliation and restoration with God.

God, sometimes it is so hard to trust what we see with our own eyes much less what we can’t see. Give us signs, icons, of your steadfast love that we may trust and believe. Use us as icons of your love and mercy in this world full of skeptical eyes. Let us bear in visible forms your love that the world might see and honor you. Amen.