Wednesday, June 24, 2009

e-vo for week of June 24

Dearest e-votees-

The church year and the commemorations of the church are not bound to Sundays only. June 24th is the day set aside to commemorate John the Baptist. Luke 1:26 tells us that Elizabeth was 6 months along when Mary had her visitation from Gabriel. If we are going to celebrate the eve of Jesus' birth on December 24th then you need to back up 6 months (that is, June 24th) to get to the time when we would celebrate John the Baptist's birth.

You might not hear about this text this Sunday in church but that is just another reminder of why we are blessed and grown as Christians if we diligently study the scriptures including those not in our three-year lectionary cycle.

May you be blessed this day (and you are--may you discern those blessings and share them with others).



Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: “You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.’ “My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to use the message of this salvation has been sent.”

Acts 13:13-36, NRSV

The text above is one of the appointed lessons for this day. 4 things jump out of this text as ways that we might allow the Spirit to shape us this day:

Eagerness to receive exhortation.

The leaders of the synagogue in Antioch ask for a word of exhortation. They are desiring to be instructed and guided in the ways of God. They are in their house of worship on the sabbath and eager to hear. The leaders are seeking to be fed. How open are we this day to hearing what God would say to us? How easily are we interrupted today if God would speak something to us--even if not at church through the called pastor on the sabbath. Are we like Mary ready to drop everything else that might distract and sit at the Lord's feet or are we clanging and fuming and fussing in the kitchen--or in the cubicle--or at the playground with the kids--or in the garden--or ... ?

Remembering our history

There is something powerful about being able to rehearse from whence we came. We are forged in the cauldrons of our families, our communities, the particular historical events that catch us at impressionable times and mark us forever. Knowing our past helps us embrace what is needed to enter into the futures that God has prepared. Paul knows his history and the history of those to whom he is speaking. Part of how God can use us more effectively in reaching others is for us to truly know the people to whom we are speaking. As the Spirit moves in your life this day find ways to share your story and enter into the story of another.

Allowing our hearts to be shaped after God's

David had a heart that was after God's. Clearly David wasn't perfect and didn't fulfill all of God's wishes. We don't need those kind of performance anxiety pressures heaped on us either. God would, however, make our hearts more like God's if that was our desire. God will not coerce us but God will beckon and woo. This day maybe we can be open to God doing work in our hearts. David's life was not only a powerful testimony but God continued what was begun there to bring about salvation through his legacy in the person of Jesus. God can work through us and the legacy we leave as well. But it starts with our hearts.

Humility in pointing away from ourselves to God

Pictures of John the Baptist often show him pointing away from himself to Jesus. John ultimately decreased so that God might increase (see John 3:30--source of the bumper sticker " I < + > " ). We need to find ways to allow our egos and our statures to become smaller so that God's grace and love and mercy might grow and thrive. It starts with redirecting people to God when they might want to fix their gazes upon us. John's real gift was that he was able to catch the imaginations of lots of people but only to redirect them towards God. Perhaps God can use us in that way today too. (I'm okay with avoiding the head on the platter part--you?!?)

God, help us this day to be open to your interruption and your correction. Exhort us and give us courage and faith to live into those callings. Help us to remember our histories and the places that have shaped us. Draw us into your plans and places that you have prepared for us. Take our parched and heavy hearts and shape them into ones more like yours. Help us point to you in ways that people can understand. Help us to live lives of courageous testimony like that of John the Baptist. Amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

e-vo for week of June 17

Dearest e-votees-

May you know God's peace and God's grace this week no matter what storms might bear down on you.


As we work together with him,a we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6:1-13, NRSV

We have a prayer box out in front of our church. People from the community are invited to offer prayer requests. We take those requests and try to fold them into the prayers of the church. This past week we got three requests which cover the three main types of requests.

Type 1: We receive specific prayers for particular individuals. This week we were asked to pray for a woman who is struggling with cancer. Her name was part of our prayers in worship this week.

Type 2: We receive requests for broad categories of people. This week we were asked to pray for those struggling with drug addiction, with homelessness, the mentally ill and the hungry. Those folks struggling in those areas were also part of our worship this week.

Type 3: On Monday morning we received a "prayer request" in our box that said:

Stop lying/telling people that God will help. God isn't reel. (sic)

Unsurprisingly this request came in without a name or return contact information.

The question I have as I ponder this third request (or as I recall the phone call that emphatically and with great profanity told my answering machine what the caller thought of our prayer box and Christians in general) is how do we respond/witness/share faith with those who engage us harshly with little desire for honest dialogue?

You don't have to read much of Paul's writings to realize that Christian witness isn't always received warmly and with appreciation. Paul's catalog of beating and sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-26 reminds us of the cost of sharing the faith at times. Paul's traditional demise as the victim of a Roman beheading reminds us too.

It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that we receive hostile reactions from time to time. We certainly don't want to antagonize or inflame such things. Nonetheless, not answering doesn't seem so very faithful either.

When we see people who are perhaps accepting God's grace in vain (however that might look) do we find ways to invite them to reconsider? When we ourselves are receiving God's grace in vain--are we open to our sisters and brothers offering a word of encouragement and dare I say the word--rebuke?

For the next few days our street sign at the church simply says:



I don't know if it will help or engage the person who dropped in the "prayer request"--I hope and pray that it does--but it is good for my soul to be reminded of those two stark truths as I drive into work. Perhaps it is good for your soul as well.

God's grace is available to you this day. Please don't accept it in vain.

God, use us to respond well to surly prayer requests and hostile confrontations. None of us deserve your grace and mercy. All of us need them. Have your way in us and through us. Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

e-vo for week of June 10

Dearest e-votees-

Welcome to the green season of the church. We now enter what is called ordinary time.

May all of our times--ordinary, extraordinary, joyful, challenging, monotonous or breathtakingly new--be blessed. And may we bless others as we journey with them through those times as well.



So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:6-17, NRSV

What does it mean to NOT regard people from a human point of view?

We know all too well what it means to regard people from a human point of view. We look at others as competition. We look at others as means to our own ends. We look at others as ways to satisfy our "needs" and wants and longings. We find ways to tear others down so we feel better about our broken selves. We go after the accomplishments of others since we didn't make it so far or fly so high. We find ways to draw the life out of them. And in the process we draw the life out of ourselves as well.

Jesus was viewed in such a human way. The jealousy and the rage and the hatred directed at him was lethal. Yet he opted to look down from the cross with a different view. He looked at us not through the human point of view of hatred and revenge and disdain but through the eyes of God--with love and forgiveness and grace.

Many people still regard Jesus in a human way. They look at the church and Jesus' followers that way too. How do we respond when we find ourselves on the wrong end of negative attention? Do we glare back and seethe with snide comments and revenge fantasies? Do we grin and bear it hoping it will stop soon enough? Do we deny our connections as we warm our hands over fires of denial? (see John 18:18)

WWGHUD? (What would God have us do?)

At my first call we used to greet people during the worship service with "I see the image of God in you." It was a discipline we tried to engage as a community that meant to displace our human views of one another with a view shaped by the eyes of faith. Sometimes I could say that phrase with great authenticity and conviction. With others it was more whimpered as a prayer ( translate "I wish I could see the image of God in you better than I do." ). That greeting/prayer we embraced was one of the ways we can choose to not regard people from a human point of view.

In Christ we are all new creations. In baptism and as we walk into our baptisms we are formed and reformed. The old is fading away. New is coming. We do well to learn how to regard Jesus, others and ourselves with new eyes that embrace that which is coming into being while not denying that which is and has been.

God, shape our eyes to see more like you would have us do. Give us grace and mercy and love and long-suffering for those in front of us and those behind the mirror. Amen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

e-vo for week of June 3

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost) is Holy Trinity Sunday. It is a time when we remember that God is in community and that through Jesus' work on the cross we, too, are folded into that community.

May your worship with your community be blessed this week.



So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:12-17, NRSV

There has been an awful lot of talk about debt and interest and bankruptcy lately. Last Sunday's Doonesbury cartoon certainly broached the topic. Most of us engage the topic whenever we get a monthly statement or consider a purchase or look at our dwindling retirement plans. It is hard to watch the news or listen to the radio or read the newspaper without getting flooded with news about how we are drowning in financial crises. Bailouts and bankruptcies seem to have no end. Paul, in Romans, talks of debt too--but in a much different sense.

Paul asserts that we are all debtors. We are all in positions of owing God. Everything we have--every breath, every stitch of clothing, every morsel of food, every loving relationship, every moment of time--everything comes from the hand of our gracious God. God makes us children and lavishes blessings upon us.

We respond to God with lives framed by gratitude and humility. If nothing we have is truly earned by us we have no boast. If everything we have comes from God have reason to give thanks unceasingly.

God has adopted us. We could never truly repay God (just as we could never repay our earthly parents for how they have tended us) but we can honor God. We honor God by not letting our fleshly desires rule our days. We honor God by seeing God's image in others we encounter. We honor God by perhaps even suffering so that God might receive glory. These are the things Jesus did. May we be bold in following after our adopted brother's (our adoption, not his) footsteps.

And when things get harder than we think we can bear, let us cry out "Abba! Father!" and know that our loving divine parent will never forsake us.

Abba, Father, draw us more deeply into the community you share with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Help us all be thankful and humble. Amen.