Tuesday, December 30, 2008

e-vo for week of December 31

Dearest e-votees-

As we squeeze out the last moments of this calendar year I hope and pray you are surrounded by the love of family and friends.

I pray, too, that you know the depth and surety of the love God has for you.

May you have a blessed 2009.



Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14, NRSV

The words of our appointed epistle lesson for this coming Sunday from the church are so deep and rich and powerful. Feel free to read them again and linger over them.

The words above are even more powerful yet when you realize that we are not the subjects of the verbs. All three persons of the Trinity are at work in bringing to bear on our lives the good news of the gospel. We are the recipients of God’s amazing and pervasive grace.

The only thing that we do in the words above is hear the word of truth and believe in him.

And even that is not of our own doing as Martin Luther so clearly states in the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism:

I believe I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.

In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

In this Christian church day after day he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.

This is most certainly true.

Go ahead and read those words again about all the good things that God is bringing to pass in your life.

It is not about your will or your strength of resolve or your resolutions. It is not about how hard you are going to try or what you will take up or put down in this coming year.

It is about our God who has blessed us beyond comprehension through grace. It is about a sure and certain hope that God has given to us. It is about what Jesus has done. It is about what God will still do as a result of Jesus’ work. It is about what God has done for us and it is about those God would use us to tell.

God, thank you for the blessings of this past year. Thank you for the blessings of this coming year. Thank you, most of all, for Jesus. Draw us into him even more deeply in the days ahead. Amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

e-vo for week of December 24

Dearest e-votees-

A blessed Christmas Eve to all of you.



For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11-14, NRSV

God’s grace has come upon us.

God’s salvation has come to all.

As this grace and as this salvation take root in our lives we grow and are trained in self-control, in upright and godly living and in patience.

We will continue to see people who have not yet arrived in these arenas of self-control, uprightness, godliness and patience. Sometimes those people who have not arrived yet are staring right back at us from the mirror. Sometimes those people are found at our family gatherings. Sometimes in our workplace. Sometime in the throes of hectic traffic. Sometimes down the pew from us at worship. Pretty much everywhere we humans wander.

That’s okay.

God’s grace has come upon us.

God’s salvation has come to all.

God is at work in us and God will bring that work to completion. All that is really needed is for us to open our hearts—wide and willing—to receive the Christ child as did the manger. We can make room for other hungry, stumbling, awkward pilgrims to join us at the Lord’s table. And they can make room for us too. God’s grace can be found in many places—pretty much everywhere we humans wander.

God’s grace has come upon us.

God’s salvation has come to all.

God we thank you that you stooped into the manger to reach out to your people. Help us know your grace. Help us know your salvation. Continue your work in us. Continue your work through us. We welcome you, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

e-vo for week of December 17

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s appointed text from the epistle is the closing words of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. The words speak of hope and mystery; of revelation and faith.

May they strengthen us and bless us this day that we might go out and encourage and bless others.



Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 16:25-27, NRSV

There is strengthening available for those as they encounter the gospel.

  • Perhaps we feel weak from despair.
  • Perhaps we feel listless from apathetic boredom.
  • Perhaps we feel tapped out from too many promises that didn’t bear out.
  • Perhaps we feel unable to grasp on to anything of depth and merit and truth.

There is good news (gospel) for us who need strengthening.

We need not despair. There is hope and future and a calling for us through the good news of Jesus Christ. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. There is no sin so great that God cannot forgive us. There is nothing we can do to get God to disown us. Despair should not win the day.

We need not drown in boredom. There is mystery and revelation to be had. Secrets kept over the ages are being revealed to all—including us Gentiles. God has commanded these mysteries and secrets to be made known. There is no way we should be able to remain trapped in boredom. Monotony should not win the day.

We need not get jaded by promises that didn’t bear out. God’s promises are coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The prophetic writings are fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry. The promises that we are neither lost nor forsaken are borne out in the life of Jesus. The promises of resurrection and restored life are borne out in the suffering on the cross and the empty tomb. There is no promise of God that isn’t answered resolutely in the affirmative in the life and ministry of Jesus. Broken promises should not win the day.

We need not fear when things seem unsure. We might reach out for a firm handhold during uncertain time. We need not fear that there is nothing to latch onto. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and into all eternity. Jesus’ words are sure and his mercies reliable. When we latch onto the things of Jesus we find depth and worth and truth. There is a reliable rock to cling to during the raging storms. Chaotic weather should not win the day.

God, give us strength through the gospel of Jesus. Give us hope. Give us enthusiastic curiosity. Give us sure words. Give us refuge in the storm. Help us be contagious in our sharing of these things with all the people we encounter this day. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

e-vo for week of December 10

Dearest e-votees-

The epistle lesson appointed for this Sunday could easily get lost in the shadows of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55 which is an option for the psalm reading this week) or portions of the prologue of John (John 1:6-8, 19-28) talking about John the Baptist. That would be unfortunate because the lesson from Paul’s pen is quite potent and poignant as well.

We will hone in on that lesson for our time this week.



Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, NRSV

Bible trivia: “Rejoice always,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) is the shortest Bible verse in the original Greek (14 characters). “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35, NIV) is the shortest English verse but has 16 characters in the Greek.

Part of the challenge in living in the world in which we do is that there is far more information available than can ever be sensibly processed and categorized. Back in the day someone like Isaac Newton could be an accomplished musician, mathematician, physicist and everything else he was. It was possible to get to cutting edge knowledge in several fields. Today one can devote their life to study a particular species of poison dart toad and still not learn all there is to know.

It is very similar in the spiritual realms. There is so much material out there. More than can ever be sensibly processed and categorized. It is not so much about learning everything as learning to sort out what you encounter. We are called by Paul to be able to “test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from any form of evil.” We don’t do this alone. God is at work in us.

Part of the way to constant rejoicing is knowing that we don’t have to know it all. We can learn what we can and trust God to guide and direct when things come our way. We can embrace the good. We can resist the evil.

We can’t keep our spirit, body and soul blameless. But God can. And God does. And God will. God is faithful and God will do this.

Because God is faithful we can rejoice even when we are not faithful. We can give thanks in all circumstances even those that seem unwelcome and uncomfortable. We can trust God to sanctify us even when we feel stained down to the core. God’s Spirit is at work and we should not quench the Spirit.

God, teach us to be a faithful and rejoicing people. Stir us to rejoice always. Do your work in us. And may your peace sanctify us completely. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

e-vo for week of December 3

Dearest e-votees-

For this week we will use the Isaiah text that is appointed for this Sunday to draw us into the good news of the coming of the Lord.

May your time of preparation and waiting this Advent be blessed.



Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:1-11, NRSV

It is hard to read these words without having a soundtrack begin to swell up in the mind. Handel’s Messiah drew heavily from this text—as did the derivative Handel’s Messiah—A Soulful Celebration (a wonderful addition to one’s music library). The opening song in Godspell--Prepare Ye--also comes from this section of scripture. Worship songs about shepherds and sheep spill out of this text too. Why do these words from Isaiah catch our attentions and those of so many musicians and lyricists?

Maybe we know all too well the grassiness of our lives. Our constancy IS like that of the flowers of the field. We can be gone in a breath. Our loyalties can shift. The sure things we were betting on can evaporate right before our eyes. Our very lives could end this day. It is interesting to see in the passage above the breath of the Lord as a force taking life in contrast to God’s breath into the dust in Eden and the breath/wind/spirit of God into the dry bones in Ezekiel. When we draw near to the frailty and fickleness of life we are drawn towards the faithfulness and constancy of the word of our God.

Maybe we know all too well that we are sheep who have strayed. We have wandered far in heart and spirit. Our enthusiasm (literally in-Godness) is lacking. We have wandered off the path. We want and need our shepherd to come and guide us back into the fold. Perhaps that is why these verses resonate so deeply.

Maybe we seek comfort from the things that have beset us. We want the Lord to come and we want to be prepared. That is what Advent is about in a deep sense. It is also what our lives should be like. Repentance (turning back) and turning our eyes towards the Lord is part of the rhythm of the Christian faith. The words and music inspired from our Isaiah text accompany that rhythm well.

Stir up in us, O God, songs of praise. Move us to pray and trust in the sure and steady places found in the words you give us. Prepare in us a way for the Lord. Amen.