Tuesday, February 24, 2009

e-vo for Ash Wednesday

Dearest e-votees-

We are now entering into Lent. February 25 marks the beginning of Lent with ashes and the familiar remembrances of our dusty origins and our dusty destinies. The next 40 days (46 if you add the “little Easters” of Sunday back in) takes us to Easter Vigil on April 11. May your times of prayer and repentance and disciplines draw you more deeply into the good news of the empty tomb that will greet us after this season of preparation.

This Sunday—if you are so inclined—look at the baptismal font at your church. It may well be octagonal. There is a direct connection between the shape of the font and the appointed epistle lesson which is 1 Peter 3:18-22.

Blessings on your Lent.



Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:1-17, NRSV
(appointed psalm for Ash Wednesday)

Our psalm comes after the prophet Nathan confronts the king David.

  • Nathan confronted David about his affair with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12:1-13a)
  • David had relations with Bathsheba after lusting for her from the rooftop. (2 Samuel 11:1-5)
  • David had Uriah killed off to help deal with an awkward pregnancy. (2 Samuel 11:6-17)
  • The baby died soon after birth. (2 Samuel 12:13b-23)
  • David’s family continued in turmoil in part because of this transgression. (keep reading 2 Samuel)

David’s sin left two dead and many wounded.

The great and might King David brought grief and destruction upon many by yielding to a moment of fleshly weakness. Rather than face the misdeed in a more honorable way he heaped sin upon sin in attempting to cover it up.

And in the aftermath David received a more glancing blow of the results. Uriah died while David remained married to Bathsheba and they together had Solomon. The child first child born to David and Bathsheba lived only seven days—not even long enough to formally receive a name while David’s name continues to be praised and exalted to this day. Doesn’t seem so fair.

When we sin the consequences bear down. Many times there are others who must bear at least as severe a consequence as us. Our greedy and covetous lifestyles have much to do with hunger and deprivation in the world (see
Slumdog Millionaire if you want a vivid image of a life much different than our own). Our inability to repent and forgive can be a gift that filters down generation upon generation. The drunk driver often stumbles away from the corpses that aren’t so lucky. Doesn’t seem so fair.

David’s psalm of remorse and repentance is so powerful that it makes it into the liturgies of the church (many places since “Create in me…” weekly). There is a powerful song by Keith Green based on these verses as well. (you can hear it
on YouTube).

Sin wounds and kills us. Sin does at least that much to those around us. Sin drives a wedge between us and God. Thankfully the nails driven into Jesus have a greater result than the sin that so often drives us. There is forgiveness available to all of us. Consequences of sin might continue but restoration and new hope are palpably present as well. In spite of all his failings God loved David. In spite of all of our failings God loves us too.

God help us flee from sin. But when we don’t—and won’t—chase after us with the reckless love best seen through the lens of Jesus on the cross. Help us pray with confidence and bless our times of preparation this Lent. Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

e-vo for week of February 18

Dear e-votees-

This coming Sunday is the one where we remember the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top where Elijah and Moses appeared with Peter, James and John as witnesses. This brings the season of Epiphany to an end.

Next Wednesday Lent begins with the imposition of Ashes. May your remaining time in the season of Epiphany be blessed and your Lenten worship draw you more deeply into the saving knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ.



And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6, NRSV

The word that gets rendered “veiled” is interesting. It shows up 8 times in the New Testament. It shows up twice in our text above.

In Matthew 8:24 the boat that Jesus and the disciples are in are being “covered” by the waves.

In Matthew 10:26 Jesus says that nothing is “covered up” that won’t be revealed (in reference to the wolves who are persecuting the church in the preceding verses).

In Luke 23:30 Jesus speaking of the dark times to come says that people will be pleading for the hills to “cover us” (see Hosea 10:8 as well) to put them out of their misery.

In Luke 8:16 Jesus talks about not “hiding” your light under a jar or under a bed but letting it shine for all to see.

In James 5:20 the encouragement is given to turn a sinner from his ways which will save him and “cover over” a multitude of sins.

In 1 Peter 4:8 the hearers are encouraged to love one another deeply which will “cover” a multitude of sins.

There is a darkness. This darkness can seem to enfold us. It might block our understanding of the truth. It may seem like we are drowning in the waves that buffet us. We may get to points of despair wishing it would all end no matter what the cost. That is the reality of our broken natures and our sin-induced separation from God.

There is good news that is testified about in our epistle reading for Sunday. There is a light that shines into the darkness. We are called to bear that light out into a darkened world. As we reach out with the light of the gospel people can and will change. The gospel can cover over the sins of their life. As we grow in godly love for one another the sins of our broken natures and sins can be forgiven and covered.

Jesus Christ has come into the world. He is the light which has not been overcome by the darkness. Jesus shines still in this world. That is the point of Epiphany. Jesus is still being revealed into the world. Sometimes, often, we choose to abide in our fallen and darkened state. Lent is, in part, about being mindful of our state without God’s grace and the salvation that was worked on the cross. As we linger near the darkness we are reminded of how important and healing the light is.

God, help us know that nothing has covered us that cannot be burned away by the glorious, gracious and radiant light of your love. Help us to let our lights so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify you—our Father in heaven (baptismal charge from Matthew 5:16). Amen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

e-vo for week of February 11

Dear e-votees-

Two of our four texts for this Sunday deal with leprosy being cleansed. You can check them out at 2 Kings 5:1-14 (the cleansing of Naaman) and Mark 1:40-45 (Jesus healing a leper). You know that these are about more than just leprosy, don’t you?

For our focus this week we will take a look at the epistle lesson from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.



Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NRSV

Paul is using a familiar image of athletes in training to talk about the life of faith. Paul is not so much suggesting that only one person will be saved but rather that there are many ways to “train” and not all are equally beneficial. We should choose the better ways.

Athletes go through incredible diet and training regimens in order to prepare themselves for their contests. They may forgo regular social lives or schooling arrangements in order to chase after Olympic gold. They may practice the same routines or the same maneuver multiple thousands of times so that they respond instinctually at the crucial moment. The focus is remarkable.

The remarkable strains and constraints that these athletes endure are for wreaths that wilt and ribbons that rot and trophies that decompose. Records will be beaten. Title belts will change torsos. Accomplishments will be forgotten. Bodies will break down. Teams will disband.

Paul argues that if athletes give so much for that which is fading how much more should we engage the salvation in Jesus Christ which never fades?

Paul says that he doesn’t (and by implication we shouldn’t) run aimlessly which tires us unnecessarily. He doesn’t beat the air (shadow boxing is much more tiring that fighting true opponents since the body of the opponent isn’t helping slow the punches). We are to engage the fight and to train but in ways that are productive.

How is God calling you to train? How is God calling you to fight? It has been my long proven experience that training works better with partners and teammates. Who might God be calling you to join in training? Who would God want fighting at your side? Dare you invite them?

God, draw us into deep and lasting engagement with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Help us never tire of doing as you have called us. Give us wisdom and courage to join others in the training and the competition. When whatever prizes come our way give us the humility to cast them at your feet in adoration. Amen.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

e-vo for week of February 4

Dearest e-votees-

I have always been partial to impressive demonstrations of camouflage in nature—walking sticks, counter-shading in fish and clever displays of mimicry amaze me.

In our epistle lesson for this coming Sunday the apostle Paul takes on the form of a chameleon of sorts as well. But his role isn’t so much to hide as to help hide the good news of the gospel in the hearts of all that he encounters.



If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23, NRSV

Paul clearly proclaims he is free but nonetheless takes on the role of a slave that the gospel might be brought to bear in the lives of others. This move resonates strongly with Jesus being in very nature God yet taking on the form of a slave (see Philippians 2:5-11 aka The Christ Hymn). I wonder how free we truly are. I wonder how willing we are to forego our freedoms that another might come to know and love the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are you free? Are you willing?

I don’t think Paul is being deceptive so much as adaptive. He encounters many people through his tent-making ministry and finds ways to connect with as many as possible. He seems to be one who would be equally comfortable at the podium of the United Nations or on the assembly line or in a smoky bar or in an overcrowded emergency room. He truly believes that he has the obligation and privilege and commission to freely preach the gospel.

  • Do we believe the good news of the gospel?
  • If so, do we believe that it is good news for others?
  • If so, do we believe that we have an obligation to share that good news with others?
  • If so, do we sense that it is a privilege to bear this obligation?
  • If so, do we trust that God has commissioned us to live out this obligation and privilege?

The last words of the gospel of Matthew ought to continue to ring in our ears:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20, NRSV

God, you are with us always to the end of age—including everywhere we go today. Use us to enter into the worlds of others bearing the privilege and responsibility to share the gospel. Give us courage and good cheer all to your glory. Amen.