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.