Wednesday, January 28, 2009

e-vo for week of January 28

Dearest e-votees-

For this week we will use the appointed psalm to focus our devotion.



Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.

Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.

He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Psalm 111, NRSV

During the time of the Reformation there came about the question what is required for Christian unity. In other words, what is sufficient for us to be in accord? Or what are the things that mandate that we must remain in tension?

In the modern day the question might look more like this:

  • Do we have to use the same hymnals or worship forms or scripted prayers to be in good relationship with another church body?
  • Do folks have to be in our denomination or particular subset before we can get along?
  • What must we share in common in order to worship together?

What is sufficient and necessary and what is inconsequential (adiophora is the fancy word for such things)?

Article VII of the Augsburg Confession says this is what is required:

For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that there the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere. (Kolb)

It seems that our psalm is laying out the basics of this true Christian unity

  • The great works of the Lord are studied and lifted up
  • The Lord's wonderful deeds are recounted and lifted up
  • Thanksgiving is given among the people
  • Food (bread and wine) is provided to those who fear him and we are reminded of the covenant
  • Redemption is sent to the Lord's people

This week as you live out Psalm 111 in worship know that you are part of a vast expanse of saints that straddles time and space and denomination. You are a part of that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 and populated in the previous chapter. You are part of a great Christian unity that at times might seem elusive but is real and true because God and God's covenant are real and true.

God help us look past our surface differences and draw deeply into your word rightly preached and your sacraments properly administered all to your glory. Use us to blast through human separations into the unity that is your plan and your will. Amen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

e-vo for week of January 21

Dear e-votees-

This Sunday is the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany. The appointed psalm reading for this Sunday in year B of the lectionary is Psalm 62:5-12. I have included the entire psalm below for consideration in our devotional thoughts this week.

May we patiently and faithfully serve our God and God’s people as we patiently and faithfully wait for our salvation and deliverance to come fully into force in our lives and in the world. God has the power and the means to bring this about.



For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

Psalm 62 (NRSV)

This psalm contrasts two ways of engaging power and seeking to secure salvation. There is the way of all of those made in God’s image (that would be all of us) seek these things. There is the way that those of us abiding in God’s plan (an ever-changing subset of the first group) seek these things.

Our newspapers and our television screens have been full of people engaging power and seeking security. Locally and internationally we hear of promises and circumstances. We hear of hope and betrayed trust. We hear words of praise and exultation as well as words of condemnation and slander. We needn’t look much further than the bathroom mirror to see people seeking to engage the powers that be and seeking to secure salvation in broken and detrimental ways. And ever since the garden we haven’t been seeking these things—power and salvation—well.

The psalmist knows our sinful frailties all too well. We tear down those who are weak and tottering like a backyard fix-it project. We hang on false words. We speak nicely to people’s faces but sometimes have a knife waiting until the opportune moment when the back is turned. We trust the circumstances into which we were born or unjust gains (slander, extortion, robbery, etc.) or the fleeting promises of worldly riches as means of power and assurance of salvation (worldly or eternal).

God has a different way and a different plan for us all. God calls on all of us to wait and to trust. We are invited to pour out our hearts to God (prayer, meditation, confession, etc.). God doesn’t tear down the tottering wall nor extinguish the flickering wick nor break the bruised reed. God turns the powers and the structures of the world upside down granting peace and hope and salvation to those (including us) who seem most undeserving. God invites us into a holy refuge.

There is work to be done in this broken world. God will work through us. We dwell in a world full of misspent power and false salvations. Nonetheless we don’t get to hide away in our prayer rooms waiting for God to finally come back and set things right. The scene in
Sister Act where the nuns spill out of the convent into the streets to make a positive difference in their immediate spheres of influence is our call to duty and service this day. With prayer and humility, with towel and basin, we are sent to serve. Jesus came to show us the way. May that way be ours today.

God, you are our rock and our salvation. Let us bless others as you have so richly blessed us. Give us courage and faith and hearts to serve. Amen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

e-vo for week of January 14

Dearest e-votees-

As you know, these devotions are usually connected to the assigned readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). This week, however, I beg your indulgence as we look at the assigned psalm for this coming Sunday (Epiphany 2, year B) but look at the verses that were left on the cutting room floor as the lectionary was assembled.

May your week be blessed.



Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:7-12 & 19-24, NRSV

The NRSV sometimes adds captions to sections of scripture. They aren’t found in the original language but offer a summary of the scriptural section to follow. The caption for Psalm 139 is “The Inescapable God.” What a wonderful descriptor of our God who does not leave us stuck in the aftermath of our sinful dispositions.

There is no where we can go to escape from God. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is no secret that we can keep from God. There is no secret place that lies beyond the touch of God’s grace and mercy. If we attempt to flee from God we will find ourselves tired and as close as ever to the forgiveness of God brought to bear in our lives through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

The second portion of lectionary excised verses from Psalm 139 show the darker side of the psalmist. And the darker side of us too. We long for harm to come to those who harm us. We draw lines in the sand with us and God on the same side (or so we think). We proclaim our faithfulness to God (like Peter did to Jesus). We proclaim our innocence while we level blame upon those around us.

If there is no place where we can flee from God’s mercy why do we think those we deem to be God’s enemies will have any more success than we in running away. Jesus states from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”. (Luke 23:34) Those gracious words of forgiveness come to bear in our lives. Those words come to bear in the lives of others as well.

God does know and test our hearts. There is indeed wickedness in us. Nonetheless, God chases after us with love undeterred. That is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And through that persistent love our hearts can be changed.

God, teach us to stop running and trust your love. Teach us to chase after others that they might trust your love. Thank you that you make your enemies, including us, into your friends and family. Amen.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

e-vo for week of January 7

Dearest e-votees-

In this cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year B which began on November 30 on the 1st Sunday of Advent) the bulk of our gospel lessons come from Mark.

This Sunday we overlap the reading we had on the 2nd Sunday of Advent right at the start of the gospel of Mark.

Mark doesn’t record any of the Christmas story for us (no birth, no signs, no Mary, no Joseph, no angels, no shepherds, no star, no Magi, no Slaughter of the Innoncents, no Herod, no Anna, no Simeon)—he begins his account with John the baptizer fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy and baptizing Jesus.

It is a little abrupt but straight to the point. Mark is like that. So is God, at times.



John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:4-11, NRSV

All four gospels include an account of Jesus being baptized. Mark is unique in that he uses the language of heaven being “torn apart”—Luke and Matthew use a different word that talks about heaven being opened. John doesn’t even mention heaven being open or torn.

The word Mark uses in the Greek that is rendered “torn apart” is skids-zoh. It is the root of our word “schizophrenic” which literally means “torn mind” or “split mind”.

The word skids-zoh appears only one other place in Mark (15:38, also in parallel verses in Luke 23:45 and Matthew 27:51). It appears at the time of Jesus’ death when the curtain in the temple is torn from top to bottom.

The temple curtain separated where God was believed to dwell from the rest of the temple and the world. Only once a year could the priest chosen by lot enter into the Most Holy Place. That was not a space with which to trifle.

When Jesus died the curtain tore from top to bottom. Who do you suppose was on top doing the tearing? Access was granted between God and humanity. Either God was let out into the world in a new way (kind of a backwards Pandora’s box) or we were granted access to God in a new way. The point is that relationship is restored with God through Jesus’ death.

When Jesus was baptized, God tore open the heavens to speak words of relationship and testimony about Jesus. When Jesus died, God tore open the obstacle between God and people renewing relationship and giving testimony about Jesus life and death and imminent resurrection.

Tearing things apart seems kind of abrupt and permanent. But Mark can be that way. And God can be that way, too. Especially when God wants to make it clear how much we are loved and that we are, in fact, in restored relationship with God.

Peter, James and John will hear these words of affirmation and relationship again atop the Mount of Transfiguration in six weeks at the end of the church season of Epiphany (which began on January 6). If God keeps repeating something in our hearing perhaps it is important.

God, thank you that you tear through every hindrance between us and you. You declare your love for us insistently. Help us to know your love. Help us to understand that through baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection we are restored in relationship with you. Tear down anything we build up that tries to block out your message of insistent love and pure grace. Amen.