Wednesday, March 25, 2009

e-vo for week of March 25

Dear e-votees-

Our appointed gospel text for this coming Sunday is one that is set during time of the Passover feast in Jerusalem. It comes right on the heels of Lazarus being raised from the dead, plots to kill Jesus and Lazarus, Mary anointing Jesus in preparation for his own death (which was in a prolepsis in John 11:2) and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The text in the [ ] s are not part of the assigned lectionary reading but complete the conversation. I don't know why the folks assembling the RCL (revised common lectionary) opted to omit the last 3 verses.

Might we, like the Greeks, be able to voice and live out our desire to see Jesus this day.



Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

[The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”]

John 12:20-33 [34-36], NRSV

This is an odd exchange. Some Greeks who had come to participate in the Passover fesitval are wishing to see Jesus. They seek out two of Jesus' earliest disciples (see John 1:35-51) and make their desires known. From the text it isn't clear if they ever did get to see Jesus or if the disciples left them waiting somewhere as this exchange occurs.

The answer that Jesus gives isn't how one generally introduces him or herself. No small talk about family or job here. Nothing about hometowns (Nathanael already tried going after Nazareth with Philip to no avail). If the Greeks did meet Jesus it must have been a rather unsettling encounter.

The fact is that Jesus came to unsettle things. Things that have settled out from apathy and religion crafted of human minds and sin both personal and institutional. Jesus came that things might be made right but that requires that other things must yield. The cleansing of the Temple (and the ensuing destruction in 70 AD) are part of that. The call and need for baptism are part of that. Forgiving others and making amends especially when we don't want to or when it is hard are a part of that. Praying "Thy will be done..." is part of that.

We are called to lose our lives, to follow after Jesus and to be like the grain that falls to the ground. Jesus is a beacon that burns furiously bright in our dark world. We are called to follow after that light. In following and in dying there is fruit that comes and life. Jesus' conversational arc might be unusual but the call is clear.

As if this conversation with Jesus and the disciples wasn't odd enough a voice comes from heaven. Jesus calls for his Father's name to be glorified. God answers in the 1st person "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." This voice was audible to 3rd party bystanders. Jesus says the voice spoke for their benefit.

The bottom line is this: Jesus will be lifted up from the earth (on the cross) and all will be drawn to him. That is the connection with the serpent of bronze in John 3:14. That is what happened on Good Friday. That is the testimony we are called to bring to the world.

Many of us like comfortable conversations and safe circumstances. We might prefer to have Jesus contained in the borders of a painting or covers of a book or to certain hours of the week or within certain circles of friends. The reality is that Jesus doesn't always make nice and is certainly no respecter of the borders we would use to hem him in.

God, give us hearts like those of the Greeks who came to seek you. Draw us out of our safety into your goodness. Glorify your name through us. Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

e-vo for week of March 18

Dearest e-votees-

Please forgive the tardiness of this week's e-vo.

This week we have two of the three stories regarding the bronze snake that prefigured Christ's death on the cross and the healing it would work in Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21. The third story of the snake-on-a-stick trilogy can be found in 2 Kings 18:1-5 which gives the name and tells of the demise of Nehushtan.

For our time together, however, we will hone in on the epistle lesson from the 2nd chapter of Ephesians.

I pray your day would be blessed. And that in turn you would be a blessing to others.



You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Ephesians 2:1-10, NRSV

There is a rhythm of life in the natural world that is predictable and sure--you live and then you die. People and animals and plants are born or hatched or germinated. They live their cycle of life. After that they die (and in some form perhaps get recycled to help something else come to life but we aren't going to lean too hard on that imagery that is way overdone in "And When I Die" by Blood, Sweat and Tears). Bottom line--in the natural world things live and then they die--end of story.

In the spiritual world the rhythm is often exactly inverted. There is a death that precedes a life:

  • Baptism is a drowning of the old Adam or the old Eve before the rising out of the waters of the new Adam or the new Eve
  • Nets must be dropped before the new call can be embraced
  • Jesus' death leads to the life found in communion
  • The temple must be destroyed before the new worship can fully take hold
  • Good Friday leads to Easter
  • Our reliance on our own good works must die before God's grace can fully take hold in our lives

Once the death of our ways and our natural inclinations and our understandings takes place then God can work new ways and new inclinations and new understandings in our lives.

We then are freed to live better lives and do good works. But these are in response to God's love and grace not means to earn them.

The blessing comes and then the opportunity to be a blessing to others.

God, work your death in us that the life that surely follows may take hold. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

e-vo for week of March 11

Dearest e-votees-

It can be frustrating or it can be delightful when people do not live up to our expectations. How much more so when God chooses not to be bound by our limited imaginations and constricting structures.

Blessings on us all as we allow our ways to be drawn up into God's ways which are so much bigger and so much better and so different.



For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
(see Isaiah 29:14)

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NRSV

The main thrust of this text seems to be that God confounds our expectations of trying to keep God neatly boxed and sorted. For those who esteem wisdom God comes as foolishness. For those who demand a sign of power the demonstration comes as a spectacle of weakness and humility. What are our expectations that God would confound? If God refused to come in the forms desired by the Greeks and the Jews why would things be any different for us modern Christians? For us who have access to power and influence? For us who live in the privileged status of first world American culture? Are we able to name our expectations that are likely to be confounded and turned upside down?

God’s power comes and trumps our paltry expectations. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. How might God trump our limiting expectations this day?

How can we find ways to be more open to God’s surprises? How do the learned embrace God’s foolishness? How do the strong enter into God’s weakness? How do the [your Achilles' heel here] enter into God’s [counter Achilles, heel which is counter-intuitive yet remarkably freeing and life-giving]?

The challenge is to direct people to the cross which is the epicenter of God confounding our expectations which is the means of freeing us and giving us life. And so we draw near to that cross and invite others to join us at the foot of that collision of the world's ways and God's ways.

Perhaps our prayer every day should be along the lines of:

Dear God, another day and another chance to follow after you. Even before I even got out of bed I started laying expectations on you. Forgive me. Help me start again. Show me your wisdom and power and strength and glory in whatever ways you might this day. Help me embrace the contradictions that seem to delight you so much. Help me to embrace them and invite others into your exquisite ironies. Amen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

e-vo for week of March 4

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray your Lent is drawing you into the places you need to be in order to be prepared for the good news of Easter. Even if they are places you wouldn’t choose for yourself.



Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:31-38, NRSV

The reality of Easter is that it must pass through the dark shadows of Good Friday.

This is something that most of us would prefer were not the case. Most of us would agree that Peter has the right idea in resisting the looming darkness of the cross. We might not be bold enough to rebuke Jesus as Peter did but we would be cheering him on silently if we were participating in the scene.

Jesus rebukes Peter but he does it looking at the disciples. Peter is the stimulus for the rebuke but it seems to be for the sake of the others. It is for those watching from the fringes. It is for us who still watch from the fringes. Jesus speaks to us.

Jesus says that if we want to become his followers we must take up our crosses and follow him. For some of us we forget how grisly a statement that truly is.

If Jesus were dwelling in our modern times it might sound more like this:

“If any of you listening want to follow after me, deny yourself—strap yourself into an electric chair and follow after me.”


“If you are real and want to become my follower in deed and not in name only then embrace your lethal injection and come the way I am going.”

This call to follow after Jesus through death is unnerving. It is lacking common sense. It is harsh and painful. It isn’t very appealing. But it is oh so real.

Jesus does not deny the need for a painful death which brings about resurrection and eternal hope.. Jesus calls us to embrace this painful reality—this Good Friday—that we might somehow be delivered from this sinful and adulterous generation. Will we draw near the cross or try to skip around it to the Easter-lite?

Jesus doesn’t mince words. Our deliverance is found through his cross. Our connection with him is found most intimately through embracing our cross.

If our minds are set on human things this makes no sense. If our minds are set on divine things perhaps we might see hope through the pain. We may not be able to give anything in return for our own lives. But, Jesus’ life, spent on our behalf on the cross, will bring us powerful returns. Jesus endured shame for our benefit. If we are ashamed about this truth we diminish his suffering.

Jesus, shape us into people who abide in your words—even the hard ones. Draw us into the crosses that you would have us bear—all to your glory. Amen.