Tuesday, May 27, 2008

e-vo for week of May 28

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s gospel text is the familiar words of Jesus about building our lives on solid places or the sands. May your days be grounded in the deep and abiding words of our Lord Jesus.



“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

Matthew 7:21-29, NRSV

It is hard to flip through the news channels or glance at a newspaper without seeing the devastating results of high winds, driving rains and flood waters. In moments things that seemed secure and permanent are washed away. Tornadoes, cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and other so called “acts of God” can level once serene and contented lives. Wars, terrorist attacks, crime, abuse of all forms and other “acts of humanity” can drive people to despair. And how many storms are raging within us and those we encounter that never get the front page or carefully recorded?!? People all too often weather these storms alone.

Jesus says that it is possible to survive the storms that beset us when we build our lives on his words. That doesn’t mean the storms won’t come—they do. Jesus spent plenty of time around storms literal and metaphorical. The cross didn’t pass by Jesus nor did the death of his dear friend Lazarus. As the words of Jesus came to bear on those situations life was restored from the carnage of the storms.

I was struck this past week by the lyrics of Beth Nielsen Chapman in her song “Sand and Water” which she sang at our homiletics conference:

All alone I didn't like the feeling
All alone I sat and cried
All alone I had to find some meaning
In the center of the pain I felt inside
All alone I came into this world
All alone I will someday die

She captures well the isolation we feel when storms bear down on us. She probably catches the sense that Jesus had in his mind and heart in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. While these words are deep and true (whether singing about a husband dead from cancer as Beth was or singing our own verses of lament and sorrow) they are not the end of the words being spoken.

There is a deeper truth. Jesus speaks to the dead and they come to life. As Anna Carter Florence said so vividly at the workshop “What in the world can you trust if dead things don’t stay dead?” Indeed. Those are the kinds of words that Jesus speaks and we are invited to build our lives upon.

Storms continue to come. Sometimes we will even get knocked down. Sometimes there is death involved. But Jesus’ words transcend death. And in the end the words of Jesus will ultimately still the storms just as he did on that fishing boat so many years ago (see Mark 4:35-41 et al). Death will not be the final word. The empty graves will remain mocking the defeated storm clouds.

God, we are never alone. We struggle with feelings and tears and storms and pains and death but you never forsake us--particularly in those terrible times. Help us rest secure as we build our lives on your promises. Use us to speak those words to all who might hear. Amen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

e-vo for week of May 21

Dearest e-votees-

I am out of the office next week for a Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Here is an e-vo in advance.

Have a blessed day.



Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5, NRSV

There is a sermon I have given in different forms over the year that uses the geometry of circles to discuss God's grace.

Circles are plane-bound forms defined by two things:

  • The location of the center
  • The length of the radius

When we try to draw circles of inclusion and exclusion in the kingdom of God we often get them both wrong. We center the circle around ourselves and our ways rather than around God and God's ways. And we make the radius determining who's in and who's out way too small.

The good news is that God's circle is much bigger than we imagine and not so closely tied to our own understandings or performances or practices. Thanks be to God.

Here is another way to get at the same truth. There used to be a Special Forces t-shirt around that said rather crassly "Kill them all. Let God sort them out."

Perhaps we can reclaim that. Baptism is not a nice ritual. It is a drowning of the old Adam or the old Eve. It is a death (joining us to the cross) and a rebirth (joining us to the empty tomb). It is God's work bringing life out of death (much like the flood which is why fonts are so often 8-sided—tied to those on the ark).

What if we as the church go out of our way to baptize all that we can. We can go and make disciples to the ends of the earth (sounds like that Great Commission from last week's texts). As we do we bear death and a resurrection promise in the form of a font.

When we let God sort them out we find there is room for ones even as corrupt as us. God's grace and mercy are new and wondrous every morning. When God sorts them out the tares and unclean fish and the goats won't be as many as we think. God sorts in a kinder and more gracious way than we do. That's the hope and the good news of the gospel. All who look at that bronze serpent on the stake will be saved.

God, thank you that we are free from judgment from others. The only judgment that ultimately matters is yours and you have declared us your sons and daughters. Help us be people who bear your baptismal death and life out into the world that thinks life is found in things that so often smell of the grave and decay. Amen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

e-vo for week of May 14

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is the day set aside to commemorate God in three persons yet one deity--Holy Trinity.

May you be blessed as you gather in community--both human and divine--this week.



Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13, NRSV

This appointed text comes at the tail end of two rather lengthy letters to the oft-conflicted community of Corinth.

Despite all of the struggles Paul obviously loves Corinth very deeply. In parting words he commends reconciliation, affection and closes with a benediction.

Paul closes this letter with the words many of us hear at the beginning of our worship: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. This is what is often called the apostolic greeting. Jesus manifests the grace of God. Because of Jesus' gracious work God's love enters into our lives more fully. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit we are drawn into community with one another and with God. What great news this blessing bears.

Since God is at work in us drawing us into community with each other and with God we can come to agreement. We can live in peace. We can offer affection. We can receive others in Jesus' name.

Our conflicts aren't minimized or dismissed. But new hope comes to bear when the Triune God is at work.

God, help us live in your grace and your love and your community. Stir us to make room for others. In the strong name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

e-vo for week of May 7

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is Pentecost. It is one of the high holy days of our church year. It is when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the early church. May the Spirit blow through your day and your week giving you peace and comfort and joy.



There is quite a menu of options for the lessons for this Sunday. The text that follows is one of the options for one of the New Testament lessons for this Sunday. It is Paul writing to the diverse congregation of the Corinthian church with a word about unity in the Spirit. Perhaps through the work of the Holy Spirit Paul writes to us as well:

...and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, NRSV

When we were baptized we were joined into the body of Christ. We joined into a new identity that magnifies and transcends who we are individually. We were born with gifts and abilities. Some have great facility with numbers and problem solving. Some have keen perceptive abilities. Some are adept at creating and understanding music. Some can express themselves well in words or verse or visual expressions. Some have courage and endurance to hold up under the most difficult circumstances. Some have the gift of a caring look and an attentive ear. The range of gifts embodied in us is diverse and marvelous and speaks to the depth and breadth of our creator.

In baptism our lives become more fully connected to the Holy Spirit. We are equipped with spiritual gifts. Things like faith and prayer and discernment and spiritual insight and preaching and the like are placed into our lives that we might be part of the body to be used for the common good.

You are gifted. You have things at work in you through the Holy Spirit which God has used and will continue to use for the building up of other believers. I hope and pray you have people around you who appreciate and encourage your gifts.

Those around you are gifted as well. The Holy Spirit has used them and will continue to use them for the building up of other believers—including you. I hope and pray you appreciate and encourage the gifts of others.

We live in a culture that lifts up certain gifts (musical ability, athletic prowess, etc.) and dismisses other gifts. If you keep reading in 1 Corinthians you see what the Holy Spirit through Paul thinks of all that.

You are a blessing. Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit at work in you and through you. Share your gifts faithfully this day.

God, help us be the body and build up the body this day. Blow through our days and our ways, now and always. Amen.