Wednesday, August 27, 2008

e-vo for week of September 10

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed texts for this week are full of gracious forgiveness (or a stunning counter example in the case of the unforgiving servant).

Our transgressions are removed from us as far as the east is from the west (pretty far) in our Psalm. We are given counsel by Paul on not judging others too harshly if they practice their piety differently than we. Jesus reminds to forgive seemingly without limit. Joseph shows us what it looks like when he welcomes his brothers who left him for dead before they sold him off as a slave.

May God shape our days by larger-than-life, undeserved and seemingly unrelenting forgiveness (which has already happened at baptism) and may we bear that forgiveness out this week in the world.



Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Romans 14:1-12, NRSV

Who appointed us to judge other servants of God? Many of us seem quick fill that role. We look askance at others in our church or others in our denomination or other denominations. We sometimes even look in the mirror and heap judgment on that servant of God. By what authority do we dare to do such a thing? Our own?—bad news. Authority that comes with the stench of sulfur and discontented formerly angelic beings?—worse news yet. God is the only one who gets to truly hold God’s servants to account.

When we presume to take on God’s roles and God’s authority bad things happen. That is the real message of the garden of Eden. That was the not-so-badly imported message in Bruce Almighty. That is God’s words towards us today.

None of us have any standing before God on our own merits. Yet “the Lord is able to make them stand.” And the Lord is able to make us stand too. God will bring God’s work begun in us to completion (see Philippians 1:6). God will bring God’s work begun in others to its completion too (again, see Philippians 1:6).

What are our meat and veggie fights today? What are things that we are so sure we are on God’s side acting as God would have us act? Where do we sneer at others because they are too stodgy and restricted? Where do we sneer at others because they are too libertine and careless? How quickly do we fall into the trap of judging others. We may not physically throttle them like the unforgiving servant but throttle them we do. And as the parable suggests we really ought to be careful with that behavior. It could lead to disastrous results for us.

God, help us live into your grace. Help us love quickly, judge slowly, forgive often and bless you always. Amen.

e-vo for week of September 3

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed gospel text from Matthew is powerful instruction from the lips of our Lord on how we ought to deal with sin and broken community within the church. It has obvious relevance to how we deal with others in our families, in the places where we serve out our callings (our vocations) and as we interact with the world.

May God’s words shape our ways in the world this week.



[Jesus talking:]

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:15-20, NRSV

The original language of our text doesn’t say “member of the church” but “brother”—an attempt at gender inclusion by the translators no doubt. The problem I have is that the language shifts from an intimate relation by happenstance to membership language. Church is mentioned later on (in verse 17) but we shouldn’t skip over the sibling language too quickly. Clubs, fraternities and sororities, academies, health clubs, country clubs, service organizations, etc. all have their place but they are completely different beasts than families. We may adopt language of brother and sister at some of these places but we know full well that there is something profoundly different from the groups that we chose and who chose us as compared to the family of origin into which we are born.

We are born into the church through baptism. Anyone else just may be baptized as well. Happenstance may bring them into our fellowship. They may do something that we regard as sinful towards us. Now these verses from Jesus come to bear in how we treat the other. We don’t pick our brothers or our sisters. When sin arises it needs to be dealt with directly and fairly. Jesus talks to us about how that should look.

Here are two reasons that we ought to truly take Jesus’ instruction to heart and engage our brothers and our sisters directly, discreetly and lovingly:

1. If we are wrong (wrong facts, misinterpretations, misheard words and intentions) we can correct the misunderstanding more easily. It is much easier to do damage control if we misread someone when we haven’t shared it with the whole church on the way to our holier-than-thou confrontation. The fact that we feel wronged may be different than if we were wronged by the other. Discreet and honest confrontation is healthier and better. Rumors are a lot harder to put back into the can once they get out.

2. If we are right (it happens on occasion) we can allow the person the dignity and the opportunity to make amends and offer repentance in a way that does not shame and embarrass them. If our goal is reconciliation (and when wouldn’t that be our hope?) is a lot more likely to happen if we haven’t dragged their name and reputation through the mud. Discreet and honest confrontation is healthier and better. Reputations and feelings are a lot easier to tend when they haven’t been ungraciously manhandled.

God, help us grow up into Jesus’ words about lovingly confronting our sisters and brothers. Give us grace to be lovingly confronted. Help us be in the business of loosing and caring for those who are bound up and hurting. Amen.

e-vo for week of August 27

Dearest e-votees-

I trust and pray that this e-missive finds you well. Our appointed epistle lessons continue to come from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We will let that portion of this Sunday’s lessons shape our time this week.



Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21, NRSV

This text reminds me very much of the 13 chapter of 1 Corinthians (another writing of Paul’s that gets lots of play, particularly at weddings). It is rich and strong. It speaks deeply of love. It is full of instructions and commands. It can be easily misused.

This beautiful passage evokes in me the same warning I share in pre-marital counseling with couples who insist on having 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding—“This passage should be used as a mirror rather than a club.” In other words this is a great text to use as a lens for self-study and personal evaluation. We don’t need to go out of our way to tell others how they aren’t living out this verse sufficiently well in our estimation.

A therapist I know has a cartoon taped on his desk. There are two bookshelves that the character is standing between. The one is about self-improvement. It is full to the brim with books for someone to examine their own life, their failings, their weak spots and do the hard work of sanctification. The adjoining bookshelf is about fixing your spouse. That shelf is picked clean.

As we read the text this week perhaps we can make a concerted effort to read it with the “self-help” glasses on rather than the “fixing the other” glasses.

The Romans text is so rich. It would be easy and fruitful to do a preaching series honing in on a verse each week. Themes of love (that deep, sacrificial, ah-gah-pay love), mutual affection (philadelphia—love of brother), hospitality (philoxenia—love of stranger), humility, seeking peace, empathy, disarming counter-responses and the like are the stuff that the deeper walk of faith exudes. When I look at myself through the lens of this text I’m not there yet.

But I hold onto another passage of Paul’s (Philippians 1:6, NRSV):

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

God isn’t done with me (or probably you, either) but will continue to bring that work to completion. As we take what we find in ourselves after the self-study with the Romans text to God in prayer and repentance God’s new mercies will flood our day again. Thanks be to God that our salvation and our growth are much more dependent on God’s faithfulness than ours.

God, shape us this day to be more like the one Paul writes of in our Romans text. Help us love others and ourselves deeply and give glory to you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

e-vo for week of August 20

Dearest e-votees-

May your day be blessed as you serve others and our God with your gifts. Offer yourself as a living sacrifice as you practice your spiritual worship.



I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Romans 12:1-8, NRSV

So often we don’t notice how much we rely on a part of the body until it is injured or out of commission.

Once we get a strain in our back or our neck we become painfully aware of how often we use those muscles.

It isn’t until the cast or splint has been put in place that we realize how much our freedoms really have been curtailed (Fast Eddie Felson in the classic movie The Hustler has a hard time even drinking his coffee with both thumbs in casts).

It isn’t until we have stubbed our big toe or jammed a finger that we realize how often those joints get bent and used and bumped throughout the day.

So often we don’t even notice the parts of the body until they are under stress.

Paul reminds us in the Romans text that we are all part of the body of Christ. We have roles to play that some might not even notice until we are no longer serving in that way. Paul lists all sorts of ways that we are empowered and called to serve. What part(s) of the body are you? How would God have you serve this day?

Perhaps we can take on the discipline this day of noticing others and the role they serve in the body of Christ. Offer a word of praise or a note of appreciation or just a thankful smile. It may well make the day of the one you are regarding.

Paul reminds us to regard ourselves with sober judgment. We ought to also regard others with gracious appreciation. We would do well to regard others as holy and acceptable to God. And if in our estimation we think they are not doing all they might for the body of Christ we would do well to let God take care of that.

God, help us lean into You away from the conforming and confining expectations of this world. Stir us to serve in the body of Christ joyfully and to offer that joy to our brothers and sisters as well. Amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

e-vo for week of August 13

Dearest e-votees-

Amidst all the glitz and emotion and pageantry of the Olympics our appointed psalm speaks of blessings that transcend our own achievements—personal and national—that are for all peoples. May we know those blessings and bear them today.



May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Psalm 67, NRSV

Our appointed psalm begins with echoes of the benediction that we hear at the end of our worship services (see Numbers 6:24-26).

The move of this psalm is to ask for God’s blessings so that those who are blessed who may go out and be a blessing in the world. That is often how God moves through God’s people.

In Baptism we are blessed and then are sent out to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (see Matthew 5:16b)

In Communion we are fed and restored and forgiven that we might go out and invite others who are hungry and disenfranchised and laden by sin and invite them in as well (see Matthew 25:34-40 and John 6:35-40).

As we are encountered by the Word God’s purposes are accomplished (see Isaiah 55:10-11 and Hebrews 4:12) we are empowered and equipped to bear that Word in the world through our own words and actions.

As God’s blessings reverberate through those who have been blessed the world is blessed too: praise and glad songs are the thankful response; justice becomes more firmly established; nations sing joyfully and even the earth yields its increase.

Let us not be naïve enough to think that blessings will abound without challenge. Where God would work blessings and joy the devil would work curses and woe. Where God would work justice the devil would work tyranny and oppression. Where God would work harmony between nations the devil would work distrust and war. Where God would work bounty and abundance the devil would work hoarding and famine.

A quick look the newspapers and into our own hearts says that God is not done working yet. But God is at work in us this day. Receive the blessings God has for you this day. Bear them out into the world that is so desperate for a blessing touch as well. May God’s face shine on you and may you reflect that light wherever you go this day.

God, You bless us more than we could ever deserve. Use us as instruments of Your blessing today. And give us the humility to receive Your blessings from those who are made in Your image just as much as we are. Amen.