Tuesday, April 29, 2008

e-vo for week of April 30

Dearest e-votees-

40 days after Easter Jesus ascended to the Father. We mention that ascension in our confessions of faith every week. Thursday, May 1 is the day set aside this year to commemorate Jesus’ departing from this earth. There are appointed texts for this day in the Revised Common Lectionary just as for any other Sunday or principal festival of the church year. We will use the appointed first reading for our devotional focus this week.May our risen and ascended Lord bless you today and always.




In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:1-11, NRSV

This text (which we take to be from the author of the gospel of Luke since they are both addressed to Theophilus [see Luke 1:1-4]) begins just as Jesus’ ministry on the earth comes to a close. In the parallel account in the closing verses of Luke we learn that Jesus was blessing his disciples as he was taken up into heaven (see Luke 24:50-53).

How poignant that the last act of Jesus as he leaves this world in bodily form is one of blessing. Jesus doesn’t end on a note of instruction. Nor one of threat of judgment. Nor one of offering or cajoling a decision.

Jesus is the ultimate evangelist. Evangelism literally means sharing the good news. Jesus communicates that good news by speaking blessing to those who are following him.

So often we have turned sharing the faith into something that we do. We ask thoughtful questions or we hand out tracts or we invite people to choose where they will spend eternity. Or others share those things with us. Faith really isn’t something that we can generate, muster, sustain or provoke. As well intentioned as these efforts are they can fall flat.

Perhaps rather than working so hard to share the faith with techniques and self-generated intensity we can be more like Jesus. We can bless others with the blessings we have ourselves received from God. We don’t do this with our own wills or strengths but as the Holy Spirit blows through us.

Pentecost is coming soon in the church year when we remember how God still blows life into the dust and speaks profound words from ones such as us. Thanks be to God.

God, help us to be lovers of God (aka “Theophilus”-es [maybe “Theophili”?]). Inspire us to receive every good blessing from you and to share them in winsome and authentic ways. Amen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

e-vo for week of April 23

Dear e-votees-

What drives us? Fear? Acceptance? Duty? Shame? Intimidation?

And what difference does it make to all these things if Jesus is set apart as Lord in our hearts?



Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

1 Peter 3:13-22, NRSV

What are your greatest fears? Your phobias? What causes you to crumble? What causes your heart to grow faint? What breaks you down?

In this text Peter suggests that the things that cause the world to fear don’t need to be our own source of fear. This said from the one warming his hands as his heart turned cold towards his Lord.

Peter says to always be prepared to give an accounting for the hope that is in you. Hopefully it will be more convincing than “I don’t know the man!”

Peter knew a thing or two about bold proclamations and crumbling into your own fears. Peter knew pretty well what it was like to break down as he wept in remorse after perfectly fulfilling Jesus’ words about denial.

Maybe that is why Peter goes so quickly to baptism. He draws near to that 8-sided promise (check out the shape of your baptismal font and see if you don’t a see symbolic representation of Noah, Mrs. Noah, Ham, Mrs. Ham, Shem, Mrs. Shem, Japheth and Mrs. Japheth) of repentance and forgiveness—of death and rebirth.

There will be more opportunities to make bold proclamation of the hope and the life we have in our Lord. We may be maligned or abused for the sake of our testimony but that puts us in pretty good company—John the Baptist, Stephen, Peter, Paul and—of course—our Lord Jesus.

God, draw us deeper into the promises of baptism. Give us bold testimony. May our reverent fear of You trump any fleshly fears of things that lurk in this world and below. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

e-vo for week of April 16

Dearest e-votees-

Call: Christ is risen!
Response: ____________

I trust you now how to fill in the blank. But perhaps it is seeming a little out of place. Wasn’t Easter over almost 4 weeks ago?!?

We are actually just about halfway through the 50 days of the Easter season. May God bless us as we continue to linger around the truth of the empty tomb even when the world starts trying to draw our eyes towards Professional Administrator’s Day or Mother’s Day or new episodes of our favorite TV shows now that the writers are back at work or __________. (I trust you know how to fill in that blank too)

The world can be a distracting and a troubling place. Our risen Lord Jesus continues to speak peace into it and into us. May we have ears and hearts to hear.



“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6, NRSV

The text above is a portion of our assigned gospel text for this Sunday. It is a text is brought to bear on many funerals.

Death and grief and despair and separation and unresolved tension can have a deep troubling impact on our hearts.

The disciples are hearing from Jesus that he is going to be leaving them. Jesus has just washed their feet, sent Judas off to do his dirty deed and told Peter about his denial. It is just started to dawn on them the scope of the death and grief and despair and separation and unresolved tension that is coming their way.

Soon after the week of the passion begins Judas fully embraces his troubled heart by ending his own life.

Soon after the week of the passion begins Peter shows the depth of the troubles in his own heart by weeping bitterly after doing just what he said he wouldn’t fulfilling Jesus’ words. But he hangs on long enough (by God’s grace) to hear words of restitution and forgiveness at the breakfast on the beach.

In our liturgical year we are still pretty soon after the week of the passion. Are we more akin to Judas or to Peter? Is despair winning the day? Or by God’s grace are we hanging on knowing that Jesus will do as he said to come back and take us to the place he is preparing?

Our troubled hearts indeed need the peace that Jesus offers. In the midst of our own places of challenge and struggle are we able to hear the good news that Jesus brings?

Jesus has deep and abiding words to say to things like death, grief, despair, separation and unresolved tension. Jesus is indeed the Word that unseats death, grief, despair, separation and unresolved tension from their unholy thrones. When the world and our images in the mirror and the devil say “Lost!” and “Liar!” and “Death!” Our risen Lord Jesus still speaks “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life!” We can certainly give our ears and our attention to either side but only one is ultimately true.

Jesus, give us courage and strength to face that which is hard. Give us grace and compassion to reach into the lives of others to help them face what is hard. Help us trust in your ways and your truth and your life. You are risen! You are risen, indeed! Amen.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

e-vo for week of April 9

Dearest e-votees-

You might not hear our appointed text from 1 Peter preached on this weekend. The shepherd imagery in John 10 and Psalm 23 are quite attractive to us preacher types.

May your continued celebration of the empty tomb fill your days and encourage your souls.



For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:19-25, NRSV

This text is a dangerous text. All scripture is powerful and in a sense dangerous. I wasn’t kidding the time I handed out spiritually explicit content warning stickers out at a children’s sermon for them to put on their Bibles—READER ADVISORY: SPIRITUALLY EXPLICIT CONTENT.

Hebrews 4:12 talks about scripture being a two-edged sword that can divide us—our souls from our spirits; our joints from our marrow. That is cutting deep. When we play with sharp things there is great potential for injury. I can still show you my trophy scar from trying to whittle the center out of a golf ball when I was in second grade. If a little pocket knife handled recklessly can leave a mark for a lifetime how much more can scripture handled tritely leave a lasting wound?

God’s living word is not something to be treated lightly. Do you ever wonder what damage might be done when scripture is quoted one bumper sticker at a time? Or too glibly in a hastily scrawled and endlessly forwarded e-mails? Or when it is quickly lifted out of its context to be forced onto another circumstance? Remember someone bending scripture for his evil purposes out in the wilderness for 40 days?

Our scripture from Peter this week has great potential to be used abusively. The careless read could easily be:
  • If you are suffering because you have done wrong, shut up and endure it. You deserve it.

  • If you are suffering when you have not done wrong, shut up and endure it. You will be blessed with God’s approval.

Of course we know that sometimes things happen to us that we have brought upon ourselves. Sometimes there is nothing to do but to endure the consequences of our choices.

Of course we know that sometimes things happen to us for wholly unjust reasons. How we might endure things that never should have happened to us might be an opportunity for God to be glorified—there is long history of martyrs who have done so.

But the default mode is not to quietly endure suffering. Our counsel to others who suffer is not just to sit and stew in it because that’s the way it has to be. When we talk like that we sound eerily similar to Job’s friends. Not so good.

If we suffer because of our actions there may be possibility for repentance and reconciliation.

If we suffer because of evil being worked upon us we can step out of that when the opportunities present themselves.

When others suffer we are called to reach out in love and compassion. We are called to speak out against injustice. We are to bind that which needs to be bound and loose that which needs to be loosed. Suffering and abuse do not get the final victory.

God, we thank you for Jesus’ suffering on our behalf. Teach us to handle your scripture well. Help us to dismantle abusive systems. Give us courage to face all things that press upon us. Draw us more deeply into the shepherd and guardian of our souls—Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

e-vo for week of April 2

Dearest e-votees-

For the world Easter is done and Mother's Day and Memorial Day are bearing down on us. In the church we are just getting started celebrating the empty tomb. May your week be blessed as the risen Christ blows the Holy Spirit into your days.



If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

1 Peter 1:17-23, NRSV

Our text starts out with a stern warning. If we are going to invoke God’s judgment on others we best make sure we are living well. We ought to be reverently fearful about what might happen to us before we call on God to give them their just desserts. If we expect others to endure “God’s righteous frown” (as many of us just sang about recently in “What Wondrous Love is This”, LBW #385) are we willing to endure that same scrutiny? I doubt it. This way of trying to live holy enough lives and deflect attention to others when we falter are some of the “futile ways inherited from [our] ancestors”.

Thanks be to God we have been liberated from that hopeless downward spiral. We weren’t saved by silver or gold or an interest rate adjustment by the federal government or by a wise investment on our part or a gracious benevolent insertion by grant agencies or caring parents. Money and possessions don’t do much when it comes to our souls (although they can serve as pretty good barometer now and again). What our souls needed was what only Jesus could bring to pass.

  • It is in Jesus that we have faith and hope.
  • Jesus is the truth that we are learning to heed
  • It is in Jesus that we are born anew
  • Jesus is the spotless lamb who heals our blemishes
  • It is in Jesus that we encounter the living and enduring word of God

Since all this has happened through Jesus’ faithful work we are able to grow in responding in mutual love (the Greek word is “philadelphia” literally “love of brother”). We can love one another as siblings because we have all been graciously adopted into God’s family. None of us deserve to be here. As to those who we may say are not in God’s family (do we really presume to know such things?—we ought to regard that stern warning again)—perhaps we ought to regard those folks as adoptees in the process of coming in and offer them mutual love as well.

The parallel track of “mutual love” (literally “love of brother”) is “hospitality” (literally “love of stranger”) which can both be found in Hebrews 13:1-2:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:1-2, NRSV

God, you have paid for the whole world in the precious blood and innocent sufferings of Jesus. Help us grow in our love to you and to all. Help us entertain angels and everyone else we encounter—since we have trouble sorting them out very well—to your glory. Help us learn to give away what you have so generously given to us—your beloved Son, Jesus. Amen.