Tuesday, November 25, 2008

e-vo for week of November 26

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday begins the new church year. We are entering year B which leans heavily on Mark for the gospel readings.

Our church year in the United States ends with Thanksgiving (Christ the King if we are only considering Sundays) and begins Advent on the following Sunday as we wait and prepare for the revealing (liturgical and final) of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The appointed lesson for this Sunday is particularly appropriate balancing thankfulness and eager anticipation well.



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 NRSV

Paul opens this letter to the church at Corinth as he does all his letters with a word of grace and a word of peace.

Would that all of us always greet one another seeking grace and peace.

Paul offers an encouraging word reminding those reading the letter (including us) that we have spiritual gifts to equip us for the in-between time. God is the one who gives us strength—we need not muster it from within. We are blameless on the day of Christ Jesus because the cross has obliterated the accusation. We are called into fellowship with Jesus.

So, what shall we do while we wait for Jesus to come again in the manger at Christmas time? What shall we do while we wait for Jesus to come again at the end of all time to answer all the promises made to us with a spectacular “Yes and Amen!”?

There was a book that came out a long time ago called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain which suggested drawing something like a chair by drawing the spaces it defines. You draw what the chair is not and what the chair is emerges.

Perhaps we can try waiting for Jesus to come again on the right side of the brain:

  • Waiting for Jesus should not be squandering or burying spiritual gifts given to us.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not be thriving on conflict with others (within or outside) of the church. Conflicts may happen but they should be en route to peace.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not forgo offering grace to one another.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not depend on our own strength or stamina or ingenuity.

  • Waiting for Jesus should not be an exercise of self-loathing as we dwell on how far we think we have missed the mark. We are blameless through Jesus’ selfless sacrifice.

As we ponder these gaps that do not reveal faithful waiting in Advent and for the end of all time perhaps what that waiting should look like will emerge. It may look a little different for each of us. Thanks be to God.

God, give us gracious and peaceful patience as we rest in the truth that you are faithful to your promises even when we are not. Help us wait well and invite others to join in the process of trusting your faithfulness. Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

e-vo for week of November 19

Dearest e-votees-

This week we will look to our appointed reading from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus to shape our time. No doubt our powerful gospel text in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats will also contribute to the conversation.



I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:15-23, NRSV

When you read this letter to the church it appears that Paul doesn’t personally know the saints. In some of his other letters there are more personal greetings. Paul seems to be relying on third person accounts in this case.

It is a dangerous thing to fixate on what others think about us. Putting too high a premium on how others regard us causes much pain in our growing years. Things are spoken from uninformed perspectives all too often. Even things spoken in truth are shaded by agendas of those spoken much of the time. Most of us would do well to not pay any attention to what others say about us and just do what we know to be right trusting that God can work all things for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose as Paul says in Romans 8:28.

But for a moment maybe we can ponder how others speak of us and regard us. Presuming they are speaking truthfully about us, what might they be saying? Do they see us as a sheep or a goat? We know with a moment’s honest self reflection that we are a hybrid. But are we more of a sheepish goat or a goatish sheep? How do others perceive us?

Paul has heard about these unfamiliar Ephesian saints and their reputation says that they have faith in Jesus and love towards all the saints.

How about us? When people are unfamiliar with us hear about us do the third party accounts say that we have faith in Jesus? Do people who gaze into our lives have any sense of who is our Lord? Do people who gaze into our lives see us being loving towards the saints?

My prayer is that when people talk about you and when people talk about me that they would see two things--our faith in Jesus and that we are loving towards all. I think the real gauge of our lives is how loving we are towards the unlovely and the seemingly unlovable. How do we treat the goats? How do we treat those who are unrepentingly nasty? How do we treat those that others tell us aren’t worth the time or are a threat to our well-being?

Lots of ink has been spilled over who “the least of these” are in Matthew 25:40. My guess is that we will always include too few people when we try to sort out the list. How we treat these fringe folks matters more than what any other person says about us. But hopefully when we are being watched and we don’t know it people are seeing us shower kindness on love on all we encounter—particularly the “least of these”.

God, help us have faith in you. Help us love the saints whether goatish or sheepish. Stir us especially to love the sinners whether goatish or sheepish. Help us to know your faithful and abiding love for us regardless of if we are having a sheepish moment or a goatish moment. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

e-vo for week of November 12

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday’s appointed gospel text is one of those that it is hard to follow with an earnest “The gospel of our Lord.” The word “gospel” literally means “good news” and this text has a rather harsh edge to it.

If you want to check out the parallel version in Luke, direct your eyes to Luke 19:11-27. You might find it helpful for comparison purposes to know that a mina is a weight of about 1.25 pounds. A talent is a weight of about 60 minas (therefore 75 pounds). (courtesy of study helps of
NIV Archaeological Bible) A talent is a lot of money. The NIV study notes say it is worth more than $1,000 by modern comparison.

The fact that Luke and Matthew both have a parallel story that Mark doesn’t suggests to some that they were working from a common oral or written source to which Mark was not privy. That source has been called “Q” by scholars which is the abbreviation of the “Quelle” which is the German word for source.

May your week be blessed as you serve and keep your talents above ground.



“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

(Jesus speaking in) Matthew 25:14-30, NRSV

This text follows last week’s that had foolish virgins getting locked outside of the party with the bridegroom. Next week’s text is the sorting of the sheep and the goats with the goats heading towards eternal fire. Lots of judgment to be had in this portion of Matthew.

First and foremost: the judgment that we justly deserved has been endured and removed from us by the righteous and innocent sufferings of our Lord Jesus on the cross. We don’t need to fixate on locked doors, weeping and gnashing of teeth in the darkness and eternal fires. Jesus is the door and gateway who is open to all. Jesus wipes away all of our tears. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus has extinguished the fires of hell. Jesus has done what we cannot, endured what we deserved and reliably saved us. Thanks be to God.

That said, how will we keep our lamps trimmed and burning? How will we put talents (in all the forms that the word “talents” takes linguistically—money, abilities, resources, etc.) that God has loaned us to good use above ground? How will we see Jesus in the thirsty, hungry, sick, naked, imprisoned and cut off folks that we will certainly encounter?

Surely we need the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us. On our own we snuff the lamps that God has ignited in our lives. On our own we run for the tool shed and bury our talents deep. On our own we can’t see past our own selfish desires let alone see the face of Christ in the needy one striving to make eye contact.

Holy Spirit, blaze in us that we might know the sure and certain hope of freedom from judgment in Christ Jesus. Help us wait with lamps ready, serve with talents invested for Jesus’ sake and with hearts and eyes tuned to helping even (perhaps especially) the least of these. You have set us free in Christ. Help us to freely serve in thanksgiving. Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

e-vo for week of November 5

Dearest e-votees-

Normally these devotions are based on the assigned lectionary texts for the coming Sunday.

This week, however, I beg your indulgence as we look at a different text which lines up well with what has been captivating the media in this country for the past way too many weeks.



“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15, NRSV

We have been fixated these past many weeks on who is the best choice to serve us. We ponder questions such as: Who has the best way out of the economic crisis that has beset our country? Who can bring the war in Iraq to the best resolution? Who can make sure that our needs and maybe even our wants are well tended? Who will do the best job as president serving the needs of this country’s citizens? Who is looking out for us?

Maybe we are thinking too much about ourselves rather than the call that is placed upon us. Maybe we are looking too much towards our own future and not enough into the future that draws and beckons us into a place of service and sacrifice—a place that looks more like a washbasin and a towel on Maundy Thursday rather than a hot steaming towel at the spa. This brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s famous admonition in his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Joshua’s admonition and JFK’s admonition still call out to us today. We are called to serve. We are called to decide in our hearts and in our minds and with our actions whom we will serve. All are invited to enter into service. All will enter that service one way or another. All must choose the one who will be on the receiving end of that service.

Bob Dylan was exactly right when he sang:

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

(Gotta Serve Somebody)

Who are you going to serve this day? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

God, we thank you for those who dare to enter the fray of public service. Be with our newly elected president and all who serve in public office. Stir us to pray and support and engage them as we bear the mantle of service you have put on us all. In the name of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45) we pray. Amen.