Monday, December 21, 2009

e-vo for week of December 23

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray that this e-vo finds you happy and well. The wait of Advent is just about over and Christmas time is soon upon us. For some this means it is time to be done with work or school for a few precious days—a time to linger with loved ones. For some this means it is finally time to open up all the presents and see what has come by way of gift. For some this is a time when we get to be with family and friends we don’t see often enough. I hope and pray that all these times come wonderfully alive for you.

The appointed epistle for Christmas Eve also brings an anticipated time into focus.

Peace, Karl


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 appeared in the form of the babe of Bethlehem. He came not just to reset the sin-o-meter that was ticking away in our lives. Jesus came to show us how to be pious in a way that is different than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus came to show us how to be free but not to use that freedom in service to our sinful desires. Jesus came to help us be upright and godly.

We are given time in our lives. From birth to death we have only so many days. During holidays we are given only so many days. Perhaps part of how God would have us bide that precious time is to give some away to someone or some cause that needs it. Perhaps we could read to a youngster—or serve in a soup kitchen—or lovingly listen to a story told for the fourteenth time by a dementia patient. It matters what we do with our time.

We are given gifts and blessings in our lives. We are equipped with gifts from birth, skills carefully cultivated over the years and resources from the generosity of others. In our lives we are given so many things. During holidays we are given so many more things. Perhaps part of how God would have us deal with all the gifts that come are way is to give them away. I am not speaking so much of re-gifting as much as blessings others with the blessings that we ourselves have received. Perhaps we could sing at a church service—or encourage and pray for a friend who is struggling—or give some of our piles of stuff away so others might be able to thrive more this winter. It matters what we do with our gifts.

We are given families and loved ones in our lives. By birth and by choice dear people become folded into our hearts. In our lives we are blessed with so many people who are crafted in the image of God. During the holidays we are blessed to gather for feast and fellowship with our beloved people. Perhaps part of how God would have us live as community is to embrace them and welcome the stranger. Perhaps we could set an extra place at our table and welcome the stranger—or perhaps we could dare to love the estranged member of our family—or perhaps we might move closer to the one we think has wronged us. It matters what we do with our family and our friends—and those who have yet to become our family and our friends.

God, you came into this world because we mattered to you. Help us resolve to live lives that matter. Help us carry ourselves in ways that please you and blesses many. Bless us in these matters. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

e-vo for week of December 16

Dearest e-votees-

May your quickly disappearing days of Advent be blessed and may your time around the manger this year be still yet more blessed.



And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Luke 1:46-55, NRSV

Mary and Elizabeth are together in Luke. They are sharing joy as they engage the pregnancy of the other. Elizabeth is one who is advanced in years and barren. Mary is rather young and not married. From the world’s view neither seem particularly significant nor likely candidates to bear such sons of significance as they did. Elizabeth will bear the Elijah (see Matthew 17:10-13). Mary will bear God incarnate, Jesus.

Both Mary and Elizabeth could be construed as lowly servants but God blessed them both. John and Jesus dismantle the power structures of this world through their lives, their testimonies and their deaths. Jesus does more of the same through his resurrection. The haughty are dethroned and the fortunes of many are reversed.

Promises made to Abraham and his descendants find fulfillment in and through John and Jesus; Elizabeth and Zechariah; Mary and Joseph. We, too, are Abraham’s descendants as we have been grafted into the promise. In John and particularly Jesus our hope and our deliverance is revealed.

God, we thank you that your power and your promises look nothing like those of the world. Your power conquers through love, humility and peace. Your promises come true--always. We thank you for faithful servants like Mary and Elizabeth. Help us to sing songs like Mary and allow you to have your way in our lives—all to your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

e-vo for December 9

Dearest e-votees-

As we draw near the halfway mark of Advent I hope that your preparations have been holy and good. I pray that the days ahead for all of us would be full of joy and lacking anxiety.



Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV

Paul offers three positive exhortations and one prohibition.

We are to rejoice. This is not the same thing necessarily as to be happy but we are to find joy. Not all circumstances draw smiles from us (Paul’s life was no bed of roses) but it is possible with God’s help to be joyful no matter the circumstance. That was Paul’s testimony. Would that it would be our testimony too.

We are to be gentle with others. This is not the same thing as being a pushover or a doormat but we are to approach others in gentle ways. Not everyone is as sturdy as they appear. They have weaknesses and vulnerabilities. That was Paul’s testimony. Would that we would see the frailty in others and treat them as the treasures fashioned in God’s image that they are. We are earthen vessels with treasures of immeasurable worth inside. So are our neighbors.

We are to seek our desires through God with thanksgiving and prayer. This is not the same thing as treating God as a divine gumball machine—pop in a prayer and out pops the desired result. Not every prayer gets the green light. Some are fraught with sin and injurious to us or others. Paul didn’t get his prayer to have the thorn in his flesh granted. Not all of our prayers will be affirmatively answered either. We are called to pray and be thankful but we do much better when we let God’s wisdom drive the answers.

We are not to worry. This is not the same as being inattentive and negligent and uninterested. We are to pour ourselves into life with passion. This draws us to have concerns and issues. This stokes our emotions and our cares. We are not served well when we let those things blossom into worry and anxiety. God knows our every need and will provide for us in all circumstances. That was Paul’s testimony. Would that we could speak those words too.

God help us rejoice. Help us make our way through this world gently. Help us pray with thanksgiving and humility. Help us not worry but trust that you will indeed finish what you began in us and will provide for us—all along the way—our daily bread. Amen.

e-vo for week of December 2

Dearest e-votees-

My apologies, last week escaped me. Here is a very belated devotional piece based on the appointed epistle text from last week.



I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 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. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:3-11, NRSV

These familiar verses are some of my favorite in all of scripture. They speak deeply of Paul’s deep affection for the saints at Philippi. It communicates the communal nature of doing ministry. It communicates that God’s grace is what binds us together. It communicates the sure and certain hope that God will complete what was begun.

How are we with our deep affection for our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus? Do we pray with joy constantly for them and their partnership in the gospel? Do we live in the reality that ministry is a communal venture or do we try to strike out on our own? Do we allow ourselves to be built up into the church with grace as the mortar or do we try to build on the shaky foundations of our own achievements and ambitions? Do we rest securely knowing that God will finish what God began in our baptisms or do we fret?

Paul’s prayer is one that suits us well too. We need to be a community founded on love. That love is not to be frothy and shallow but deep and abiding. That love is to be informed by knowledge and depth of insight. That growing in knowledge and wisdom is a communal venture as well.

As we wait for Jesus to liturgically come again in the manger and to definitively come at the end of all time to usher in his kingdom let us rest secure. Since our fates have been sealed by God’s grace we can dare to live lives of love, service and increasing knowledge. These things don’t save us—they are evidence that we have been saved. God began it and God will bring it to completion.

God, mold us into the people you would have us be. Help us love one another more than we could ever deserve because that is how you first loved us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

e-vo for week of November 25

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration. As you gather around tables with loved one and are sorely aware of those you wish were there be blessed. May deep connections and joyful laughter fill your conversations. Be loved and be loving.



How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, NRSV

The appointed text for this Sunday (the first Sunday of the new church year and the first Sunday of Advent) is one that is most fitting for Thanksgiving as well. Paul is longing to be reunited face to face with the saints in Thessalonica. Their relationship has been sustaining.

As you receive or go and visit people (family, friends, siblings in Christ) who have given you joy and sustained you over the years be blessed. Thank God and savor the moments. Take your shoes off and linger on that holy ground. Allow God to shape and create holy reunions. Abound in love for God and for one another.

Allow God to stir your love for those who cross your path as you go about your celebration of these days set aside for Thanksgiving. If you go out shopping on Black Friday take with you an attitude of love and charity. Perhaps you could stop by the Salvation Army kettles or find your way to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or a Thanksgiving dinner for those dining on the “Island of Misfit Toys”. Let your heart grow a few sizes this year and set an extra setting of roast beast out just in case someone happens by the door.

Jesus says it pretty clearly in Matthew 25:40: whatever we do unto the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters we do unto Jesus.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving with friends, family, loved ones and Jesus.

God, how do we begin to thank you for all you have done for us? Even the things in our life that are not from you that we cling to and imperil our intimacy with you are things that you graciously endure and extract from our lives. Thank you. You work all things for good in our lives. Help us cherish your kindness and steep in your love and extend them both to the hurting world in which we sojourn. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

e-vo for week of November 18

Dearest e-votees-

As we draw near to the end of our church year (Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of our liturgical calendar), Thanksgiving and the end of the calendar year I thought we might engage a tone of reflection and thankfulness for the past year.

May you be blessed. May the frantic scurrying of holiday shopping and baking and black Friday fade in comparison to the joy of loved ones, deep and abiding promises and new starts.



But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 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.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, NRSV

I am a cinephile. (I am a lover of movies). I suppose I could confess that I am a sinphile too (one who loves to sin?) but that goes without saying and is, of course, why God stooped into the world to save us. One of the things I love to do in regard to my love of movies is savor the Oscars. There is something that is lovely and engaging to me as the best performances of the year are celebrated including newcomers and beloved favorites. I realize this whole event smacks of theology of glory and idolatry but what can I say—I love the spectacle. By far the most moving part of the night is when they flash “In Memoriam” on the screen and then linger over those who have departed from their earthly existence.

There is something good about lingering over the lives and achievements of those who have stirred passions, who have challenged the status quo, who have portrayed what we struggle to describe and who inspire hope and courage when our natural inclinations are to wallow in despair.

I would encourage you to reflect back over this past year—longer if you like—and think of those who have made a deep impact in your life. Who have put flesh and bones for you on the skeleton of the Thessalonians text above? Who has encouraged you when you were faint of heart? Who has been ceaselessly praying for you? Who has stirred and stoked the Spirit in your life? Who has shown you patience beyond your deserving? Who has admonished you when you have stooped into mediocrity?

In the middle of the Thessalonians text is the exhortation to “give thanks in all circumstances”. This does not say to give thanks for all circumstances. That is very different and perhaps ill-informed. But as followers of Jesus we know all things work towards the good (see Romans 8:28). I hope and pray that your year ends and your thanksgiving could be full of joyful “In Memoriam” moments as you think of those who have laid down their lives (literally or metaphorically) for you.

If you have the opportunity, give thanks directly to those who have blessed you so richly. And, of course, the source of all blessings and the model for how to truly live out our Thessalonians text is Jesus. Celebrate Christ the King Sunday and Thanksgiving well knowing that Jesus gave his life freely and has freed us all. That is the true “In Memoriam” moment. The cup and the loaf are the true banquet where we remember and where we actually engage Jesus’ body and blood. That beats the stuffing out of turkey and yams and stuffing any day. Savor the feast and make room for others who are hungry.

God, thank you. Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

e-vo for week of November 11

Dearest e-votees-

Today is the day set aside to commemorate the service of veterans in our country. I thought it fitting to swing away from the assigned lessons for this Sunday and choose one particularly appropriate for the day.

Blessings to you as you enjoy your hard-earned freedoms this day.



This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

John 15:12-17, NRSV

There are two deep threads that run through these words of Jesus.

Jesus talks about the deep nature of sacrificial love. He is preparing his disciples for the cross. He is assuring them that the deep sacrifice he is making is to establish and affirm their friendship. God stoops to us creatures and washes our feet and then goes on to die the shameful death of a criminal. We didn’t take Jesus’ life from him so much as he laid it down. Through the agony of Gethsemane Jesus opted to endure the cross on our behalf.

Jesus talks about the hope he has for his friends. They are to bear fruit. They are to live in love. They are to be about the Father’s business. The call on them is “to love”. This text is where Maundy Thursday gets its name. Maundy derives from the latin root that means “to command” mandatum). We are commanded to love. We are not only to love those who love us and who provide for us and who are appealing to us. We are commanded to love our enemies and those who wish to work us harm and those who are repugnant to us. Jesus shows that in his willingness to die for us while we were yet sinners—see Romans 5:6-8. He shows that to us when he prays for his executors from the cross—see Luke 23:34.

Honorable veterans bear out these two threads as well. They offer themselves fully knowing that at any time they might be called to make the ultimate sacrifice. They do it for love of country and love of humanity. They do it to help purchase freedoms and liberties for some who don’t even begin to deserve such a sacrifice on their behalf. The sacrifices made are in order that peace and love might be the final outcome. There is a hope that war might become obsolete when all are set free. We ought to be deeply thankful for those who have braved awful conditions and hazardous circumstances that we might never have to know the terrors of war.

Today also happens to be the day when Søren Kiekegaard died in 1855. Here is a quote of his that seems well-suited to a day where we give thanks for freedoms paid for in blood and deep sacrifice:

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech.

Either/Or, vol. 1, "Diapsalmata" (1843)

God, we thank you so much for the service of our veterans. Comfort the families who grieve untimely deaths—particularly those who grieve the massacre at Fort Hood. Help us cherish the hard won liberties that are ours. Help us especially cherish the hard won freedom we have from Jesus’ work on the cross. Help us love our enemies and make war a thing of the past. Amen.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

e-vo for week of November 4

Dearest e-votees-

I will be away next week and not so reliably able to access computers so I thought I would send out this e-vo in advance.

The account of the widow of Zarephath seems fitting in these times of economic stress. Our church is actively involved in a ministry called Zarephath kitchen which provides meals for those in need. We have been blessed many times over hearing God’s call to serve and offering hospitality.

May our hearts be stirred to be hospitable and empty places set at our tables in hopes that others might come.



Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah (the Tishbite, of Tishbee in Gilead courtesy of 17:1)] , saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

1 Kings 17:8-16, NRSV

There are two powerful stands of this story:

STRAND 1: When God calls people into service their needs will be provided.

This story comes on the heels of Elijah being miraculously fed by the ravens. God knows our needs and our desires intimately. When God invites, calls, presses, cajoles, mandates us into service we can be sure that God will care for us. Jesus says as much when he talks of the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28-34; Luke 12:22-31). If we have ears to hear we will resonate with Elijah and be willing to step into God’s callings trusting that God will indeed provide. How might God be calling us to step out in faith and into service?

STRAND 2: When we share out of hospitality and sacrificial giving we will be okay.

The woman has her mind set on making a last supper of meal for herself and her son. After that it will be time to die. She has lost sight of hope for the future. God, through Elijah, interrupted her despair. As she boldly cared for Elijah she found that the end wasn’t so near after all. The book Three Cups of Tea talks of how the course of Greg Mortensen’s life and many villages were changed forever through the hospitality he was offered when he stumbled lost into the wrong village after a failed attempt to scale K2. (There is also a Young Reader’s Edition of Three Cups of Tea). That book is well worth your time to read. When we allow God to steer us out of our comfort zones and welcome the stranger with food and drink and compassion we have profound encounters with God. As we encounter God the other concerns come into alignment. As we encounter God circumstances that seemed surely fatal have new life breathed into them. How might God be calling us to step out in hospitality?

Answering calls in faith is a powerful strand at work in this account. Radical hospitality is a powerful strand at work in this account. But being bold—in our own flesh—to strike out may not be sufficient. Pouring ourselves out—in our own flesh—in service of another might not be sufficient. These strands—as noble as they are—can get frayed and give way under the weight of the needs of this world.

God is the third strand that offers strength and endurance. God is the one who calls us to service. God is the one who calls us to be hospitable. With God woven through our service and our hospitality we will surely endure:

A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12b, NRSV

God, gives us ears to hear your call to service. Give us hearts to welcome hungry strangers to our tables. Shape us again into your image. Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

e-vo for week of October 28

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday there are two sets of appointed lessons—one for All Saints Day and the other for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. We’ll use the appointed epistle lesson from the All Saints Day readings shape our time together.

May your time remembering saints alive and those who have gone before be blessed this weekend.



Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Ten he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Revelation 21:1-6a, NRSV

Revelation and people’s interpretations have caused plenty of excitement, confusion and problems. Some want to take it literally and have sold many, many books with fiction based on such a reading. Others want to take it as a book about the end times (“eschatological” would be the fancy seminary adjective for such literature). Still others want to experience this text now without being constrained to the literal reading. Where do you fall on this range of ways in which to engage the words of Revelation?

Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that God’s word is living and active—and so is this text. Isaiah 55:10-11 remind us that God’s word does not return without fulfilling the purpose for which it is sent—and so it is with this text.

This text is grounded in our present reality and it speaks of how things will ultimately be.

God makes a home with us mortals. The word suggests that God makes a tent or a tabernacle with us (like God did with the folks during the exodus). God enters into our world (“eternity stepped into time” is how Michael Card sings it in “The Final Word”). Jesus came into time and interacted with the apostles and Mary, Martha and Lazarus and still is at work in the world and in our lives through the Holy Spirit. God is making all things new.

God will ultimately make a home with us mortals. Death will be no more. Tears will be gone. We catch glimpses of that this Sunday in the gospel text as Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead (but not the final resurrection as he indeed died again). Mary and Martha tears are soothed for a time. God will bring that about for all of us who call on God and rest in God’s mercy. God will indeed renew all things.

God help us to know the blessings you have bestowed on us—now and those to come. Help us receive those blessings well. May we bless our neighbors now. May we bless and praise you now and always. You are the beginning and the end. Help us rest assured that our futures are in your gracious hands. Amen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

e-vo for week of October 21

Dear e-votees-

This Sunday is the Sunday set aside to commemorate the Reformation. May your worship be full of stirring music, deep and profound preaching boldly proclaiming God’s word and lavish grace.



Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Romans 3:19-28, NRSV

Wasn’t so long ago that I was preaching at a friend’s installation. One of his chosen texts was Psalm 82. It made mention of showing partiality to the wicked. I took that scripture as an opportunity to remind my friend and those in earshot that one of the ways that we show partiality to the wicked is when we temper and soften the sharp edges of scripture because we deeply care for the folks we are addressing. I said that he had been called to serve a wicked people (not necessarily more wicked than anyone else but wicked nonetheless). I encouraged him to preach boldly and show them no partiality. Some who heard took offense that I had called them (and all people) wicked. Some of us don’t like having the old Adam and the old Eve called out.

The truth is that we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. No qualifications. No softening of this. All of us are sinful and wicked. All have need of salvation that comes from outside our own efforts.

The law is set aside as a means of justification through Jesus’ glorious work on the cross. We are saved by faith--not works. We are saved by grace--not works. We are saved by Jesus’ work and fulfillment of the law and the prophet-not by the law.

We don’t boast. We don’t Lord it over others. We receive it by faith and point others to the same gracious banquet that we have stumbled into by God’s mercy.

God, be glorified in our worship this weekend. Help us live into your radical salvation by grace through faith. Draw others up to the table as well. Use us as seems good and proper to you. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

e-vo for week of October 14

Dearest e-votees-

My goodness the week got away from me. My apologies.

Our appointed gospel text for this weekend are the bookends of the gospel of Luke. The opening bookend addressed to Theophilus—literally god lover—tells what Luke is intending to do throughout the gospel (and Acts too which is also addressed to Theophilus). The closing bookend has Jesus revisiting what has happened during his time with the disciples and sets the stage for Pentecost and the post-resurrection church. This, of course, is the story that continues in Acts.

May our day begin and end and throughout the middle be full of that power that comes from on high. May we diligently and faithfully serve and see that God’s good purposes are bearing fruit in our lives.



Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Luke 1:1-4, 24:44-53, NRSV

This quote from Jesus about everything written about him in the law and the prophets and the psalms is unique. I can find 11 verses in the New Testament (all but one in the gospels and Acts) that mention both the law and the prophets. Only the verse above in Luke adds the psalms to that formula.

Jesus came to fulfill the law. God has holy and righteous expectations for God’s people. There is a way that we are to live. There is a way that we are to carry ourselves in the world. There is a covenant that puts expectations and obligations on us. From the first accounts in Genesis on God’s people have not been able to live up to the things laid out before us in the law. Sometimes we try very hard, other times we lean hard on cheap grace and barely lift a finger. Jesus came to fulfill what we could not and would not. Moses appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration was a sign that Jesus was intimately connected with God’s purposes through the law. The law has been accomplished through Jesus.

Jesus came to fulfill the prophets. God has holy and hopeful visions and dreams for God’s people. There is a way that we are to live into. There is a way that God’s dreams and God’s plans are to carry us into the future. From the first revelations of God’s hope and deliverance in Genesis on God’s people have not done so well living into the hopeful and life-giving future laid out before us in the prophets. Jesus came to fulfill what we could not see and dared not step into. Elijah appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration was a sign that Jesus was intimately connected with God’s plans for God’s people. Our future has been secured through Jesus.

Jesus came to fulfill the human experience. Deitrich Bonhoeffer called the book of psalms (the psalter) the prayer book of the Bible. When Jesus prayed he often drew his words and images from the psalms. Jesus became fully one of us to show us how to live. The psalms bear the whole range of human experience—joy, sorrow, anger, despair, isolation, hope, etc., etc. Jesus entered fully into our mortal existence. When we so often live life on the fringes not daring to step on the dance floor or jump in the pool Jesus comes and tears into life. When the psalms appear on Jesus’ lips even during his dying moments on the cross it is a sign for us how intimately Jesus is connected with us. Our adoption into God’s family is complete as God becomes fully one of us through Jesus.

All that is left to do now is to live into the things Jesus has already fulfilled. And we don’t do this alone. There is a power that comes from on high and brings the words of Jesus to our minds. There is a power that reminds us of God’s laws and prophecies. There is a power that reminds us that God knows our every finest detail and loves us relentlessly. Things are coming to fulfillment including the good work that God began in us. Amen.

God, draw us into Jesus more fully. Blow your Holy Spirit through our live that brings life to dead and dusty bones and hope to withered dreams. Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

e-vo for week of October 7

Dear e-votees-

God’s word is living and active--powerful and dangerous. It tells of Jesus. Jesus who was living and active on this earth some 2,000 years ago. Jesus who is living and active this day in the world and in the lives of the believers. There is still an invitation extended to approach the throne of grace with boldness. This day mercy and grace are extended to us and to all in our times of need.

May we live today like we believe these things and that our salvation depends on them—for in fact they do.



Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:12-16, NRSV

When I was in the 2nd grade I decided to explore the center of a golf ball (I heard there was a core like a super ball) with my jackknife. I started to carve away the outer layer. The knife stuck. It then came loose rather suddenly. The knife blade skimmed around the surface of the golf ball I was holding until it came to rest embedded in my non-carving hand. I lost knife privileges for a while.

Our curiosity can take us down some bad paths and leave us wounded (apparently it can be lethal to those of the feline persuasion as well). We might engage in things that can seem playful or innocuous but later realize what we have done. Sometimes the mistake isn’t realized until the trip to the emergency room or the irretrievable crisis.

One of the ways we can help avoid such trips and such situations is to immerse ourselves in God’s words. Our naïve understanding of the things in which we dabble can be developed as we ponder God’s plans for us and how we are to be in the world. The words of scripture—particularly the law—act as a guide and a curb to our more base and more self-seeking behaviors.

To be sure lots of folks who know and love the Bible make many missteps. But if they have pored over the Bible they know that God loves all sorts of people who should know better but do otherwise—Adam, Eve, Cain, Abraham, David, Peter, Saul (aka Paul) and ______________ (your name here).

Jesus knows about our jackknifes and our golf balls—times where curiosity and naïveté get the best of us. Jesus knows all about our times when our descent into sin is much more deliberate and intentional. Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses and our struggles. Grace and mercy are available to us and to all. This is not a free pass. We still walk out the consequences of our choices. I can show you the scar in my hand to this day from my golf ball surgery. I bet we could spend a long time swapping scar stories—most of which aren’t so easy to point to in the flesh. But Jesus’ grace and mercy are a balm for our scars.

There is help for us in our times of need. And we would do well to help others find that balm as well. We are all walking wounded—and some of us know the Great Physician. Let’s not keep that a secret.

Jesus, you are the healer of our every ill. Help us draw near to you. Help us draw near your living and active word. Do your work in us. Help us do your work in the world—all to your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

e-vo for week of September 30

Dearest e-votees-

For as many sermons as I have heard and as many as I have preached I don’t remember them very well. I wish I had much better recall and facility for processing homiletical messages--I really do.

I do vividly remember, however, a sermon that was preached about 15 years ago at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Rancho Cucamonga, California. The preacher spoke of the pain he saw his daughter endure as she went through her divorce. The skeleton of the biblical text of Jesus’ teaching on divorce was enfleshed with the painful story of this marriage that did not last. Through the preacher’s pain I was able to glimpse God’s pain as the hopes and the dreams, the vows and the promises came unraveled.

Perhaps this week we will find occasion to encourage and nurture a marriage. Perhaps this week we will have to opportunity to care for someone who is walking wounded out of the ruins of a failed marriage. We might even get the chance to welcome an inconvenient stranger. May we be open to God using us as God’s agents to care for those we encounter.



Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:2-16, NRSV

Everyone in our appointed text seems to be erring on the side of being stern and turning the cold shoulder. The Pharisees are using the tragic circumstance of a divorce as a means to perhaps catch Jesus teaching contrary to Moses. The disciples are trying to insulate Jesus from the bother of little children and their parents. The implicit message is that Jesus (aka God) doesn’t have the time or the interest in ones such as these. No one seems particularly aware of the needs of those enduring a divorce nor those of the little one needing a blessing save Jesus.

In terms of divorce, Jesus ups the ante. Perhaps Moses permitted such a thing but God never intended it. “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” is part of our wedding liturgies to this day. Divorce is removed from the list of options by Jesus (except for marital unfaitfhfulness as in Matthew 19:9). Yet it still happens. Hearts are still hard. We push away from God’s intentions and from each other. We neglect Jesus’ words and wound ourselves deeply in the process.

In terms of welcoming the inconvenient visitors, Jesus ups the ante. Jesus is indignant that the disciples are turning away small children. Rather than push them off to the side he draws the child into the center and holds that one up as the example of how we ought to be. The disciples try to intervene and disrupt the blessing. Yet it still happens. Jesus heart is still open. Jesus draws the children into God’s intentions. Jesus’ words (and eventually his wounds) bring the deepest healing.

God stir us to be more like Jesus—speaking God’s desires and going the extra mile to welcome people. Soften our hearts. Work healing in us and through us all to your glory. Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

e-vo for week of September 23

Dearest e-votees-

Whenever I preach I begin with a form of Psalm 19:14...

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

That is the often unstated undergirding prayer of these e-votions as well.

This powerful prayer is part of our assigned psalm reading for this coming Sunday. The lectionary reading is actually begains at verse 7--"The law of the Lord is perfect..."--but I wanted to include the psalm in its entirety.

My your day and your words and your meditations and everything else about your day be acceptable to the Lord--your Rock and your Redeemer.



The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19, NRSV

The first part of this psalm is palpable out here in the Pacific northwest. The power and beauty and creativity of God are easily discerned. This is a good place to be for people who like to lean hard into the first article of the Creed "I believe in the God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth". Stunning mountains, cascading waterfalls, pounding surf, and panoramic vistas all point to an artistic and inspired creation. The heavens and the firmament are proclaiming God's handiwork. Do we have eyes and ears and souls that are receptive to what we are being told?

It is possible to get lost in the first article of the Creed and neglect the work of Jesus and the on-going work of the Holy Spirit. That is a trap that some fall into out in this part of the country. I have heard that Bishop Mark Hanson made such assertions as well in the homily at the installation of Bishop David Brauer-Rieke. There is need for God's laws and precepts and commandments to be addressed. We are unable to live them out fully and faithfully. We need to be delivered from our transgressions and our errors. That is what the second Article of the Creed is all about. Jesus took what we deserve. Jesus lived as we cannot. Jesus' "great reward" is shared with us. We are saved.

The Holy Spirit continues to blow about this beautiful and sin-stained world. The work begun at creation and at our baptisms isn't finished yet. We are called and gathered and enlightened and sanctified (as Luther said in the Small Catechism) by the Holy Spirit. As this whimsical and potent force blows through our days and our failures we can dare to pray such things as:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Dear God, stun us with your creative beauty this day. Drive us to the foot of the cross with the law. Help us to rise as Jesus again says "Peace be with you." Carry us by the whimsy of the Holy Spirit to wherever You would have us be this day. Amen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

e-vo for week of September 16

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s gospel text just sums it all up. Jesus is looking Jerusalem squarely in the face. The disciples are too busy looking in the mirror and fighting for the spotlight to catch the call to “Come and die.”

Where are we looking and what is catching our ears this day?



They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:30-37, NRSV

One of my favorite takes on the disciples (particularly James and John) worried about where they will end up is found in an essay called James, John and Crazy Joe by Gordon Atkinson (aka RealLivePreacher). If you are one who is easily upset by earthy language you might want to ignore the preceding links. I find some of his musings about theology and ministry to be incredibly insightful and true. His book is a great addition to the shelves of those interested in deep and true theological struggles.

Jesus called his disciples and us last week to take up our crosses and follow after him. Bonhoeffer summarizes that as Jesus’ call to “Come and die.” This week Jesus again speaks of his impending doom. He is speaking clearly to them but they choose to remain in the blur and omit the clarifying questions. The silence must have been palpable.

Perhaps to fill the awkward dead space they start talking about who is the greatest among them. Words and laughing perhaps shifted over to declarations and yelling as they argue who is the best. Think about the worst aspects of beauty pageants writ large. The disciples don’t realize that seeking recognition (part of the “theology of glory”) is just about the polar opposite of taking up one’s cross and following after Jesus (part of the “theology of the cross”).

Not only did the disciples ignore what Jesus said…

Not only did the disciples choose blissful ignorance over painful reality…

Not only did the disciples really flunk out of the discipleship lesson of the day…

The disciples chose by their actions to show how ignorant and self-seeking and worldly they really are.

How about us: Are we seeking Jesus’ call even if it means the cross or are there other things calling out to us? Success? Adoring fans? Recognition? Promotion? Title? Fame?

God, give us ears to hear and eyes to see your ways. Help us love the children among us. Help us lift up others. Help us fix our eyes on you and offer our service to our neighbors—all to your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

e-vo for week of September 9

Dearest e-votees-

How easy it is to start a raging fire. How hard it is to extinguish.

Clear warnings come from our assigned epistle text about playing with fire. Will we heed them?



Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

James 3:1-12, NRSV

One of my most vivid childhood memories is experiencing the woods around our campsite burning up as a mysterious fire which began in our Volvo spread its destructive grasp. What started small did significant damage before it was restrained. We never determined with certainty if the blaze was intentional or accidental.

One of the most compelling movie images I have seen in a while (and trust me I have seen quite a few) was the scene in Doubt when the priest played by Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a preaching image regarding gossip. A woman is troubled in her soul about a dream she had and wonders if it has to do with her habit of gossip. When she talks to her priest he counsels her to take a pillow up to the rooftop of her apartment and stab the pillow with a knife. She comes back to report she has done as requested. He asks what happened when she stabbed the pillow. “Feathers.” she replies. The scene shows feathers flying away in all directions carried with the wind—beautifully shot. He tells her to go and retrieve the feathers. She says she cannot for she doesn’t know where they have gone. “And that is what gossip is.” proclaims the priest.

With our tongues we can start raging infernos. We don’t even need to say something directly. We can hint at it or just let a reckless assertion go unchecked. How easy it is to cast igniting sparks about and see what is ready to flare into blaze. Too many of us have pyromaniac tendencies when it comes to such things.

It used to be the case that at least we needed to say things face to face. People would be able to gaze into our eyes and perhaps challenge the wild assertion on occasion. These days we can start blazes with just a few strokes on the keyboard. The internet is a ripe fodder for blazes. We can twitter or blog or spam just about anything we so choose. We can easily obscure our identity. We can cut and paste and alter and repost with virtual impunity. Our audiences are larger than ever and accountability is at an all time low.

How careful are we with our tongues and with our typing? Does fresh and brackish water flood our conversations and our postings? Do the fig trees in our lives yield figs or some unnatural fruit? Do we find ways to put the best constructions on things or do we like to let festering insinuations enter into our thoughts and words and electronic communication?

The raging fire around the Los Angeles area that has been capturing attention in the news ought to capture our attention as well. Lives are destroyed and severe damage is inflicted when fires blaze—whether set intentionally or inadvertently. We need our tongues and our keypads to be tamed. That would be a great focus point for our prayers and our devotional practices.

Dear God, we make many mistakes. Give us courage to change our ways. When others burn us with their words and their actions help us find ways to forgive and renew. When we burn others give us courage and humility to do the hard work of restoration after the fire. Help our communications to be loving to neighbor and pleasing to you. Help us in this area of crucial growth, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

e-vo for week of September 2

Dearest e-votees-

This week's gospel text has the disturbing account of Jesus turning away a woman likening her and her demon-possessed daughter to dogs. (Whatever happening to welcoming the little children?). May we be blessed and changed and unsettled with this unsettling account of Jesus and his ministry.



From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Mark 7:24-37, NRSV

I don't like this exchange where Jesus seems all too ready to dismiss a woman in deep need. It seems that she wins him over with the verbal exchange and he grants a pardon from his original indifference. Good thing she was quick with her wits. I wish this account hadn't made it into the canon.

Texts like these are hard to sanitize and difficult to swallow. So let's not try. Let's be open to Jesus not being as nice and friendly as we have been led to believe in Sunday school and elementary lessons of the faith. Jesus has an edge here. He unsettles this woman and he unsettles us.

When it comes to heavenly feasts and a place at God's table where do we imagine ourselves? Do we presume there is a place for us? If we walk into the banquet do we take the seat of honor up front or are we more humble taking the seat towards the kitchen? Jesus had some things to say about that--pointed things. Do we walk into church with our finery on and expect to be greeted well or are we more worried about how others are treated? James had some things to say about that--pointed things.

Bottom line, nothing that we receive is a matter of what God owes us but rather gracious gifts from God's gracious hand. We have no business being at God's table or in God's house save that God invited us. We are no better than that woman who pleaded for the crumbs from God's table. We are no better than the one turned off by faith in our country seeing way too much hypocrisy and greed. We are no more deserving than others who by poor choice or rotten luck ended up with no job and maybe no home. We are all beggars.

I have always been struck by the last words attributed to Martin Luther. Here is one who knew Greek and Hebrew and translated the Bible into the language of the people. He prayed more than most of us ever will. He wrote so much that in death his hand assumed a writing pose (you can see a plaster cast at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN). He worked so hard for so long on behalf of so many. Yet at the end of his life, he knew his place. Perhaps we too can walk in this world knowing our place and having the sense to invite others, as well, into the place of God's grace. Luther's final words are below.

No. 5677: Luther’s Last Observation Left in a Note

February 16, 1546

“Nobody can understand Vergil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has first been a shepherd or a farmer for five years.

Nobody understands Cicero in his letters unless he has been engaged in public affairs of some consequence for twenty years.

Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years. Therefore there is something wonderful, first, about John the Baptist; second, about Christ; third, about the apostles. ‘Lay not your hand on this divine Aeneid, but bow before it, adore its every trace.’

We are beggars. That is true.”

These were the last thoughts of Dr. Martin Luther on the day before he died. (Luther's Works, Volume 54)

God, we are beggars. We plead for your mercy and your grace which sustain us daily. Help us welcome all to your gracious feast. Even your crumbs sustain us to life everlasting. And you give us so much more than crumbs--you sent us your Son. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

e-vo for week of August 26

Dearest e-votees-

As you bide your time in the world this week may God’s presence and love and grace be palpable.



Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:17-27, NRSV

This epistle lesson makes the case that we ought to seek to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. I think that it is fair and necessary to offer the exhortation to our generation that we be hearers of the word as well. We are plugged into channels of information and influence in so very many ways yet what are the sources of our feeds? It matters what we put into our hearts and heads. The old computer maxim "garbage in, garbage out" still rings true even though the garbage blazes in at unprecedented speeds in these modern times.

We are encouraged to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Yet the world in ever increasing data rates feeds us countless examples of people who speak more and say less. We are treated to angry, snarky sound bites (whether on TV or in the paper or on the internet). Comedy seems to spend most of the time tearing down others made in God's image. Many movies and TV shows and stand-up acts seem chock full of "sordidness and rank growth of wickedness". We would do well to "welcome with meekness the implanted word that has power to save". Gossip, libel, slander, nasty insinuations and half-truths leave us all battered and bleeding.

The comparison is made between hearing but not doing and leaving a mirror only to forget what we looked like. Unfortunately we don't even leave the mirror much anymore. We are bombarded with appeals to our vanity. Social networking sites count and display how many "friends" we have. We are constantly barraged with newest gimmick to look better. We don't even have to ask the mirror who is the fairest of them all. We know that it is us--or that it might soon be us once we go through our latest regimen of self-improvement. We hardly give ourselves a chance to forget what we look like.

God calls us to put aside these vain and self-destructive behaviors.

We are called to peer deeply into the law. When we see or hear God we are called to enter into that vision or that exhortation with our actions. We are assured that blessing is found in such choices.

We are encouraged to care for the orphans and the widows and all the others in need that we encounter. We can offer comfort in their distress. We are encouraged to strive to stay unstained by the world. When we get stained it turns out that the waters of baptism are great for cleaning off our missteps. We should remember to wash up daily and face the world renewed and invigorated.

God, draw us out of the world and into you this day. Forgive our slip-ups and give us hearts to speak slowly and love deeply. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

e-vo for week of August 19

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed epistle for this week comes from the sixth chapter of Ephesians. In this text are instructions for resisting attacks from the evil one in our lives. We would do well to ponder and pray our way through this text this week.



Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20, NRSV

In our midweek adult study at church we have been working our way through C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. This book presents one side of a series of letters as Uncle Screwtape works to help his nephew Wormwood corrupt his first Christian. Although the language and the setting are from another place and time the insights into the schemes and strategies used to get us spiritually off track are spot on. I would highly commend this book to you if you have never read it or if it has been a while.

The introduction to the book says that there are two mistakes that we as humans can make as we think about the diabolical realms. Either we think of them as comic caricature—and thereby are too dismissive—or we afford them undue attention and fear—and thereby are too obsessive. It really doesn’t matter which side of the horse we fall from—we still end up dismounted from the proper perspective on faith.

We modern or post-modern thinkers can very easily dismiss devils and demons and evil as vestiges from a primitive past. We discard such things as superstitious drivel and sneer at those who think in such ways. Others of us can buy in fully to world views such as captured in the ridiculously popular Left Behind series of books. Either way we end up dismounted from the proper perspective of faith. The evil one is still hard at work trying to draw us away from the true faith with parlor tricks and with petty distractions. We are much too easily distracted.

One of the themes of the book is that the devil and his minions always try to misdirect our attention. Our Ephesians text gets at this too. We are in a spiritual struggle. We get our attention mistakenly fixed on flesh and blood. Our ultimate struggles aren’t with people. We wrangle with powers and principalities. People and circumstances perhaps offer flesh and sinew to our struggles but the real skeleton is one of spiritual forces of evil and powers and principalities. Our prayers and our strategies should reflect a deeper and more spiritual insight when we pray. Perhaps one of the reasons Jesus was able to pray for those who had crucified him while yet on the cross was that he understood what struggle was really underway. The Roman soldiers and the religious leaders were more akin to pawns in the conflict.

We are engaged in struggles in this world and in spiritual realms. We are called to strive to be faithful and focused during the things that assail us. The armor of God as detailed above gives many ways in which to seek to endure the onslaughts. May we find deep truth and powerful inspiration in those Holy Spirit blown life-giving words this week.

Please pray for those who are messengers of the gospel (which is all of us if we take seriously the priesthood of all believers) that they may “make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” to a world that is easily distracted and only half listening. May all of us speak with boldness. May all of us hear with the requisite attention.

God, give us wisdom to see past the surface tensions to the battles that rage in the spiritual realms. Help us all to put on the full armor of God and fight the good fight. Stir us to be ambassadors of your reconciliation and bearers of your good news. Amen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

e-vo for week of August 12

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed lessons for this coming Sunday from Proverbs 9:1-6, Psalm 34:9-14 and the Ephesians text below all talk about wisdom.

There are all sorts of ways to be in the world this day. Not all are equally wise nor pleasing to our God.

May we find ways to live in the freedom God has granted us and drink in life in such a way that others want a taste and in such a way that God is pleased.



Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-20, NRSV

It seems that we are called in the text above to become fluent in God's will. We are called to discern what is wise and what is not. As the flashcards of daily life and the choices come rushing at us--threatening us with consequences of choices made poorly--we need to choose well. Like learning any language it takes time with the basics and rote work to gain any basic understanding. The nuances and the fancy wordplay come so much later. Knowing the accounts of scripture offers us the basic grammar of living wisely. Practicing our conversational faith in community has big benefits. Every day is a pop quiz--are we studying?

The text moves from living wisely to living as a joyful song. We are to lift up psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We are to sing in accord with God's will. We are to offer up songs of thanksgiving. Images of Paul and Silas having a hymn sing in prison in Acts 16:25 come to mind. Making music in the face of life's disasters (like the string quartet in the movie Titanic) come to mind. Strains of defiant and joyful music that won't be quashed (like the jazz music that bathed us at our recent youth gathering in New Orleans) by the bumps and scars of life comes to mind.

At the heart of our music needs to be attitudes of thanksgiving. All the blessings we have come from the hand of our gracious God. All the challenges that come are way can be endured and sometimes even redeemed through the guidance and strength and comfort that comes from God. If we truly understand what all God has done and continues to do for us we can't help but offer praise and thanksgiving.

God, teach us to live wisely, to sing boldly and to thank often. The world tries to twist our thinking, muffle our song and cultivate discontent. Give us guidance and strength and comfort to resist the sham promises of this world and to draw deeply into the true and reliable promises that you offer. We pray this in the name of Jesus--Amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

e-vo for week of August 5

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed epistle lesson for this week has some pointed things to say about how we are in relationship with others. This is one of those texts that is easy to use as a club on others that we think are missing the mark. So much more would God prefer that we would examine ourselves through the mirror of this text.

God’s mercies are new every morning for us and for those that we deem have failed us and our communities. May we all grow into the likeness of God.



So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2, NRSV

I picked up a pithy saying from a hospital chaplain’s office while out doing a visit one day. It says…

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you
-not because they are nice, but because you are.

I keep this saying posted on my bathroom mirror at home. I see it often and it greets me as I rise to face the new day. To be sure it would be better if the language of “politeness” and “nice” were upgraded to language of service and sacrificial love but the point is still there. The presumption that I am nice is patently false. Every day I need to go to the baptismal font engage God’s mercies and let the old Karl be drowned and the new Karl rise up to engage the day. There is a persistent call on me not merely to be nice but to be loving in the ways that Jesus loved. For all of us who are baptized that call rings out.

Our text in Ephesians helps clarify that call on us. We are to engage people lovingly and truthfully. We are to engage our feelings but to not let them draw us into sin. We are to work towards reconciliation. Those who have dishonest means of gains in their lives (that would be all of us I suspect) are to put them aside and labor more honestly. We are to share with the needy and avoid grieving the Holy Spirit.

Our talk is for building up others. Gossip and slander are to be put away. Anger and bitterness and wrath are to be expunged. Jockeying for position (which necessarily shoves others aside) is not for us and God’s people. We are called to be imitators of God. We are called to be imitators of Christ.
If we want an example of treating from one’s own character rather than in response to the provocation we need look no further than the cross:

“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

has everything to do with who Jesus is. We are called to be imitators of that.

God, stir us to love all sacrificially particularly those who don’t deserve it. That is how you are with us and that is how you want us to be. Help us to grow up in ways that please you all to your glory. Amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

e-vo for week of July 29

Dearest e-votees-

Apologies that the rhythm of these e-votions being sent out has been off for the last few weeks. I was in New Orleans with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (aka ELCA) high school youth gathering in New Orleans. We were part of a group of 37,000 learning about and living out "Jesus, Justice and Jazz". We are back now and ready to try to bring to bear in or normal lives what we learned during that extraordinary time. Thank you for being flexible and for your prayers during our time away.



This week there are some options when it comes to texts assigned for Sunday. Among them is the account of Nathan rebuking David for his taking of Bathsheba as his own wife by having Uriah (her husband) killed. Below is a portion of that lectionary text option:

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

2 Samuel 11:27b-12:6, NRSV

David seems completely blindsided by this rebuke from Nathan. David tracks very well with the offense that has been described. He seethes with anger at the injustice. He is ready to lay down the hammer on the one who has done such a thing. He is oblivious that the hammer is casting a looming shadow over him.

It reminds me of when people file by on worship after the service on Sunday morning. Sometimes a comment is offered like "Nice sermon pastor. You really gave it to them." The internal thought is "I was talking to you as much as anyone." Perhaps what is needed is Nathan's response which is found in verse 7: "You are the man!" We are so ready to hear rebukes and instructions on behalf of others.

Generally speaking we are well aware of what is expected and what is fair. We know the standards of what God expects and we don't even mind when others get called on the carpet for not living up to those holy expectations. When it comes to the law we are fine having it apply to others. When it comes to ourselves, however, God's grace is enough for me thank you very much.

There is a song that is sung a great deal in contemporary worship services with the title "Open the Eyes of my Heart". Perhaps we should pray that they ears of our heart are opened as well. That we might hear God's correction and expectations for ourselves as eagerly as we do for others.

We would do well to strive to treat all with the grace and mercy and best constructions that we wish were applied to us when we sin. That is another one of those expectations of God that isn't so very hard to grasp but can be much more elusive to live out.

God, help us hear the words you send into our lives: words of hope, words of love, words of rebuke and words of life. Help us offer them to others and steep ourselves in them as well. May this happen all to your glory. Amen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

no e-vo week of July 22

There will not be an e-vo this week as I am away with 36,000 or so folks at the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans. Please keep God's work in our hands in your prayers.

Peace, Karl

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

e-vo for week of July 15

Dearest e-votees-

One of the compelling names that is attached to Jesus is "Prince of Peace" (see Isaiah 9:6-7). We live in a war-torn world. Often our churches bear the marks of deep conflict as well. What might it look like if we were really to live into the words of our appointed Ephesians text below?



So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:11-22, NRSV

People often sort themselves out into those who are "in" and those who are "out". We see this in children's literature with the star-bellied sneetches and the plain-belly sneetches (of Dr. Suess' The Sneetches and Other Stories). We see this at work and home, school and church. We see this in our Ephesians text with the Gentiles and the Jews (the "uncircumcision" and the "circumcision"). How many different ways can we find to separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters who are also made in the image of God?

The truth is that we have had marked separation between ourselves and God. As an entire race we have had separation which we talk of as humanity's fall into sin. Personally we have had separation since birth which can be heightened every day by our own failings and wanderings and sins. Some things we blunder about and do ignorantly. Many are also much more of our choosing. All can lead to separation.

This separation between people and God was dramatically portrayed in the Temple in Jerusalem. It hung as a curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. It was thought that God's presence was most powerfully manifest behind the curtain. Only one priest would enter that most holy place and only once a year and only after the correct blessings and cleansings had occured. Getting too close to God was thought to be a powerful and dangerous thing.

When Jesus died on the cross that curtain was torn top to bottom (see Mark 15:38). We were granted access to God (or God came out into the world in a much more tangible form). Jesus broke down "the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us". We are made right with God which calls us to then work on making right between us and our brothers and sisters.

The term "outsiders" (or "aliens" or "strangers" or "foreigners") is being stricken from our vocabularies by God. All are undeserving (including us). All are made in God's image (including us). All are welcome (including us). We are called on to practice "hospitality" (see Hebrews 13:2) which is literally "love of strangers". While this can certainly take on traditional forms of hospitality we are called to--in ever deepening ways--love those who once were strangers and aliens and foreigners and outsiders. How might God grow us in that spiritual practice today?

God is building us "together spiritually into a dwelling place for God" this very day. How very deep and powerful and profound is that?

God, use us this day to reach out to the other kinds of sneetches. Help us strive to love the strangers we encounter (who all bear your image). Help us practice radical and profound hospitality all to your glory. Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

e-vo for week of July 8

Dearest e-votees-

I will be out of the office next week so here is an early dispatch of the e-vo. May you be blessed. And may you, in turn, be a blessing to others.



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

Often when I pray with people--whether over dinner or at the side of their hospital beds--I have some portion of the prayer recounting some of the blessings we have received from God (every breath, every sight, every sound, every moment, every smile, etc., etc.). There is also another part of the prayer which asks God to help us be a blessing to others with the blessings we ourselves have received from God.

The appointed epistle lesson for July 12 is a wonderful text for laying out some of the blessing we have received from God. The text even opens up with talking about God being blessed and us being blessed. The word that is rendered blessed is a compound word in the original Greek. It is "yoo-" which means "good" and "-logos" which means "word." Literally it means "good word." It is the source of our word "eulogy" which are the kind words we speak over departed folks at their funerals.

God doesn't wait until we are dead to speak eulogies (that is good words, that is blessings) into our lives. God speaks life into us through the living and active words of scripture. That life is something that we are invited to share with any and all who would receive it. We are to take the blessing from God's lips and breathe it into the lives of others--all who would hear.

Let's not wait until our friends and loved ones and even our enemies are dead before we invoke eulogies over their lives. May we receive God's blessings and be aware of those we have already received. And may we give God's blessings and help others be aware of those they have already received. And may we do this all to God's glory.

God, continue to bless us. Continue to shape us into people who speak blessings into the lives of others. Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

e-vo for week of July 1

Dearest e-votees-

This week is a week full of commemorations of apostles. Monday (June 29) was the day set aside to commemorate St. Peter and St. Paul. Friday (July 3) is the day that is set aside to commemorate St. Thomas. Both of these days have appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary like any Sunday. For this week's devotion we will spend some time with the appointed gospel text for the commemoration of St. Thomas.



Jesus is speaking:

“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. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:1-7, NRSV

This text comes out of a powerful portion of the gospel of John and the passion story. Jesus has just finished washing his disciples' feet. Judas has left to betray Jesus. Jesus has given the new commandment that they might love one another. Jesus has revealed that he will lay down his life. Peter promises that he, too, will lay down his life. Jesus tells Peter that denial is what is coming from Peter--at least at this point--not martyrdom.

The text then rolls into the assuring words that Jesus offers. The disciples are troubled that they might be left alone. They are concerned that they won't see Jesus again. They are aware of their failings and their shortcomings. Thomas speaks so clearly for all of us that he really doesn't have it all figured out. Questions still fill his mind and his heart. Questions are probably imbedded in our minds and hearts as well.

This gospel text is a favorite text for use in funerals. At times of funerals we may be troubled that we are left alone (by our loved one and perhaps by God too). We are concerned that we won't be able to see God and God's work through our tears of grief. We are all too keenly aware of our own failings and perhaps those of our deceased loved one. Questions fill our minds and our hearts. Our hearts may be troubled.

Jesus assures his disciples and us that he is the way to God. If we are worried about getting to God we can let go of that worry. Jesus takes us there. Jesus did that corporately on the cross. The veil in the Temple has been torn. We are granted access to God in an unprecedented way because of Jesus' all sufficient work on the cross. Judgment and wrath have been trumped by mercy and sacrifice by one who had the authority to bring either.

Jesus continues to draw us to God individually and also in the communities of faith in which we dwell. Jesus will never forsake us--even though it is hard to see him through our own tears and failings at times. Jesus is the Way and he shows us the way. Jesus is the Truth and his words and teachings continue to bear truth into the falsehoods of this world and our own vain imaginations. Jesus is the Life and his death and resurrection infuse our own mortality with sure resurrection hope. When we commune and when we worship Jesus meets us and draws us to the Father.

Thomas gets way too lousy a reputation as a skeptic and a doubter. Thomas was one deeply in touch with what he needed to believe. How much better if all of us were so self aware and could boldly articulate to God our questions and our stumbling places? God isn't afraid of our doubt. God isn't afraid of our questions. God's heart is troubled when we are too apathetic to express our doubt and ask the questions.

God, thank you for the life and witness of Thomas. Help us untrouble our hearts in the light of your good news. Help us be about the business of untroubling other hearts as you lead us by your Holy Spirit. Amen.