Wednesday, February 27, 2008

e-vo for week of February 27

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray Lent is going well for you. For this week we will focus on the appointed Old Testament lesson of David being selected as king. Our powerful (and lengthy) gospel story about the man born blind needs a fair amount of time to develop. In many churches it will get the lion's share of the attention in worship.

Here is some attention for our no less powerful Old Testament lesson.



The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you." Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?" He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these." Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:1-13, NRSV

Samuel was instrumental in Saul becoming the first king of Israel. 1 Samuel 10 has Samuel anointing Saul much like he does to David in the text above. Saul didn't end up working out too well. God decides to have Saul replaced. Samuel had all sorts of reasons to be grieving: for the country, for Saul personally, for his own part in helping Saul to become king, etc., etc.

God tells Samuel to stop grieving and to go and anoint a new king. Samuel is afraid of Saul. God says go. Samuel goes.

God tells Samuel to go without knowing exactly how the circumstance will play out. Samuel might be hesitant to step into the unknown. Nevertheless God says go. Samuel goes.

God tells Samuel to go and follow God's lead. Samuel's instincts tell him that one of the seven brothers before him is surely the next Saul. God reminds Samuel that God's eyes don't see like ours. God says that Samuel should anoint that one who is out tending the sheep-David. Samuel does.

Throughout this account of the anointing of David there are three threads:

  • God gives Samuel instruction
  • Samuel has insights or feelings that could interfere with God's plan
  • Samuel follows God's call

How much are we like Samuel?

God has all sorts of instructions and intentions for us. Sometimes they are the rules and expectations from a loving parent. Sometimes they are dreams and hopes from one who calls us friend. Sometimes they are warnings from a creator who set up the universe and can read the trends. God has plans for us, plans to give us a hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29:11).

We have feelings and insights that can run counter to God's plans. Sometimes they are the tantrums of a disobedient child. Sometimes they are the dreams and hopes of ones who have lost perspective. Sometimes they are choices from a part of creation who can't see the long term results of our immediate gratifications. Our inclinations too often run counter to God.

We can choose with Samuel to do God's will. We can pray for clarity and direction to make the choices that God would have us make. We can do this because God has already chosen us. Our fates our sealed in the sure and relentless love of God best evidenced in Jesus. As we allow God's will to redirect our wandering ways and poorly chosen goals we can experience God's plan more clearly in our lives and in the world.

When we look in the mirror we may wish we saw people more like Eliab and Abinadab and Shammah and all the rest. We may even wish we saw someone ruddy like David. Before we despair at our own reflections we ought to remember that God sees us (really sees us, more than we ever can) and God loves us. God made us and God will never forsake us.

God, we were anointed with your Holy Spirit in baptism to serve. Help us usher in your kingdom this day all to your glory. Thank you for your persistent saving love. Amen.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

e-vo for week of February 20

Dearest e-votees-

Last week I unintentionally jumped the gun and looked at this week's epistle lesson with our e-vo.

So this week rather than revisit the same texts I wanted to step off the regularly beaten path just a little further. Next week we will be back on the lectionary.

Sometimes it is good for us to get out of our ruts and see where God might meet us.



Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:23-29, NRSV

For our Lenten Wednesday services this year we are having the pastor types assume the characters of some of Jesus’ disciples. We are speaking through costume and words in the first person about encountering Jesus. It is an interesting way to enter into the story. It is a little playful and creative as for some of the disciples we don’t know nearly as much about them as we would like. As we prayerfully engage the texts and the task we trust that God will meet us. If you are able to come join us for this endeavor, please do. Your presence would be a blessing.

As I was thinking about this task of taking on the character of another it dawned on me that what we really need to be putting on is the character of Christ--not just in the safe confines of church but every day as we sojourn through this world. The text above from Galatians came to mind—particularly the verse about being clothed in Christ in baptism.

What is particularly striking is the passive voice of the verb. The clothing comes from without. We certainly know that to be the case when little children are dressed. It is true in many parts of the faith that Christ comes to us from without. Jesus is a gracious intrusion that we are called to receive with thanksgiving.

For almost all of us baptism happens long before we can make a conscious choice. Even those of us who come to the font later in life are brought by the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. Christ comes to us from without as the waters dampen our dry and dusty spirits. As we are baptized we are clothed in Christ. Baptism is a gracious intrusion that we are to receive with thanksgiving.

Communion comes to us as a gift from outside as well. “This is the body of Christ given for you” and we say “Amen.” “This is the blood of Christ shed for you” and we say “Amen.” Christ comes to us from without through the hands of the altar guild and the bakers and the vintners and the presiding ministers and the distribution assistants and certainly through the command of Jesus himself. We receive from others the ability to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Communion is a gracious intrusion that we are to receive with thanksgiving.

Jesus promises that where two or three are gathered in his name he is there with them. When we gather with others we can experience Christ more profoundly than we can in isolation. As others join us they bring Christ to us from without. We do that to them as well. Together we pray and encourage and call to account and offer forgiveness and bring comfort in ways that we cannot muster on our own. Living in community and communion with the saints is also a gracious intrusion that we are called to receive with thanksgiving.

This putting on Christ is no easy thing. Sometimes we have to severely acknowledge where we have put on something much more sinister. Or, truth be told, we have to acknowledge that we are those much more sinister characters down to our core. Lent is partly about allowing those troubled and darker characters be brought into the light.

As we prayerfully engage the texts and the tasks we trust that God will meet us. God comes to us in the form of gracious intrusions that we are to receive with thanksgiving.

Jesus, help us to be dressed up in you. Give us grace and courage to receive you from others. Help others to receive you from us as well. Help us get out of our ruts and see where you might lead us this day. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

e-vo for week of February 13

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray your time so far in Lent has been blessed.



Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:1-11, NRSV

We talk about people—often soldiers—making the ultimate sacrifice. We talk about one giving up his or her very life on behalf of another. Putting one’s self in harm’s way that another might be spared. When fire fighters rush in to a burning building to rescue another there is no guarantee that they will come back out. When police officers intervene in a domestic dispute to try to ensure the safety of the family there is no guarantee they will get back home safely to their own family. When someone smothers a live grenade with their body so that others might be spared there it is unlikely they will themselves be spared. When we hear stories like this we rightly catch our breath and speak of heroes.

When the tributes are done those connected to the fallen hero still need to go on.

For some they take solace in the greatness of the ones who were saved. Somehow some think it more noble if life is given in defense of the president. Or if many are spared by the sacrifice of the few (you Trekkies might be thinking about Spock making the ultimate sacrifice and his dying words just now). Or some might be thinking United Airlines flight 93 (the plane in 9-11 that the passengers recaptured and forced into the ground). We try to make the heroes more heroic. We try to elevate the importance of the victims. We try to oversanitize the biography of the hero. Sometimes we work way too hard bringing sense to things that transcend sense.

But what if the one being saved wasn’t so wonderful? Perhaps the person who was spared from the meth lab fire he caused will continue plying his trade even after the fire fighter is buried. Maybe the one spared by the heroic act will never realize the sacrifice made on his or her behalf. What if the one being saved looks more like us? What if the one being saved looks like a thirsty woman at a well with a sketchy biography? What if the one looks like a headstrong, impulsive fisherman and his partners? Perhaps the ultimate sacrifice becomes even yet more ultimate when the one who is saved is peculiarly unsavory—the Apostle Paul seems to make that case. And the ultimate sacrifice becomes even yet more ultimate when the hero doing the saving is indeed the beloved Son of God.

When the tributes are done those connected to the fallen and risen hero still need to go on. The connection we have to Jesus’ death and resurrection in our baptisms stir us to go on this day.

God, give us eyes to see in every one we encounter—hero, victim, perpetrator, mirror image, everyone—the image of you that dwells so deeply in them. Stir us to live like Jesus did and to take up our crosses and follow. Help us to lay down our lives for your friends. Amen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

e-vo for week of Ash Wednesday

Dearest e-votees-

Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return. (see Genesis 3:19)



[Jesus speaking] “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. 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. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

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. 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.

o o o

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. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 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.

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

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, NRSV (appointed gospel for Ash Wednesday)

For whom do we perform?

Jesus sets out two distinct audiences. We can practice our piety so that God the Father is the intended audience. We can practice our piety so that other people are the intended audience. The rewards that come are from the audience we intend. Not all rewards are created equal.

Some of us give up things for Lent. Some of us take on extra disciplines for Lent. In either case there is a hope that someone will notice.

If God is the one we want to notice we will go out of our way to not draw attention to our behavior. God doesn’t need our “ahem” to draw divine attention. As we are able to stay off the human radar we will find reward from God. We may well experience a “Well done good and faithful servant.”

If the world is the one we want to notice we won’t be so careful to conceal our piety. As we are able to pull this off we draw attention to ourselves away from God. We injure our own faith journey and perhaps others that we distract. It brings millstones and deep waters to mind. (see Mark 9:42; Matthew 18:6; Luke 17:2) We may well receive accolades from others but they are cheap and tarnished prizes in comparison to that which we forfeit from the divine hand.

It might be the case that if we intently seek God’s approval and do what we can to conceal our faith practices others might yet notice. That’s not all bad. We know Jesus went off to pray. We know John had a special diet and an odd wardrobe. Paul and Mary and Martha no doubt inspired many with their piety. What people say and how they act might betray a deep love of scripture. Part of how we learn about the faith is by watching others who seem to be on the right path.

The danger is when someone on the path chooses to be a trail guide rather than just another sojourner. It’s the “Look at me! Look at me!” that is the problem.

Rewards can be passing and distracting things. We are called to make offerings for the needy (give alms) and pray and fast (give up things for a higher spiritual purpose) and store up spiritual treasures. We do this for God’s sake. If something comes our way in the form of a reward or blessing we can be thankful to God. The reward is not the goal.

As with all blessings we receive them in order to bless others. How to pass on blessings without drawing attention to ourselves is a deep and persistent challenge. It is good we have a patient, loving, forgiving, long-suffering God to help us figure it out.

God, stir us to focus on you. Help us take up and put away practices according to your good pleasure. Let your grace and forgiveness restore us when we slip. Take care of us--your dusty people. Amen.