Friday, August 28, 2009

e-vo for week of August 26

Dearest e-votees-

As you bide your time in the world this week may God’s presence and love and grace be palpable.



Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:17-27, NRSV

This epistle lesson makes the case that we ought to seek to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. I think that it is fair and necessary to offer the exhortation to our generation that we be hearers of the word as well. We are plugged into channels of information and influence in so very many ways yet what are the sources of our feeds? It matters what we put into our hearts and heads. The old computer maxim "garbage in, garbage out" still rings true even though the garbage blazes in at unprecedented speeds in these modern times.

We are encouraged to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Yet the world in ever increasing data rates feeds us countless examples of people who speak more and say less. We are treated to angry, snarky sound bites (whether on TV or in the paper or on the internet). Comedy seems to spend most of the time tearing down others made in God's image. Many movies and TV shows and stand-up acts seem chock full of "sordidness and rank growth of wickedness". We would do well to "welcome with meekness the implanted word that has power to save". Gossip, libel, slander, nasty insinuations and half-truths leave us all battered and bleeding.

The comparison is made between hearing but not doing and leaving a mirror only to forget what we looked like. Unfortunately we don't even leave the mirror much anymore. We are bombarded with appeals to our vanity. Social networking sites count and display how many "friends" we have. We are constantly barraged with newest gimmick to look better. We don't even have to ask the mirror who is the fairest of them all. We know that it is us--or that it might soon be us once we go through our latest regimen of self-improvement. We hardly give ourselves a chance to forget what we look like.

God calls us to put aside these vain and self-destructive behaviors.

We are called to peer deeply into the law. When we see or hear God we are called to enter into that vision or that exhortation with our actions. We are assured that blessing is found in such choices.

We are encouraged to care for the orphans and the widows and all the others in need that we encounter. We can offer comfort in their distress. We are encouraged to strive to stay unstained by the world. When we get stained it turns out that the waters of baptism are great for cleaning off our missteps. We should remember to wash up daily and face the world renewed and invigorated.

God, draw us out of the world and into you this day. Forgive our slip-ups and give us hearts to speak slowly and love deeply. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

e-vo for week of August 19

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed epistle for this week comes from the sixth chapter of Ephesians. In this text are instructions for resisting attacks from the evil one in our lives. We would do well to ponder and pray our way through this text this week.



Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Ephesians 6:10-20, NRSV

In our midweek adult study at church we have been working our way through C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. This book presents one side of a series of letters as Uncle Screwtape works to help his nephew Wormwood corrupt his first Christian. Although the language and the setting are from another place and time the insights into the schemes and strategies used to get us spiritually off track are spot on. I would highly commend this book to you if you have never read it or if it has been a while.

The introduction to the book says that there are two mistakes that we as humans can make as we think about the diabolical realms. Either we think of them as comic caricature—and thereby are too dismissive—or we afford them undue attention and fear—and thereby are too obsessive. It really doesn’t matter which side of the horse we fall from—we still end up dismounted from the proper perspective on faith.

We modern or post-modern thinkers can very easily dismiss devils and demons and evil as vestiges from a primitive past. We discard such things as superstitious drivel and sneer at those who think in such ways. Others of us can buy in fully to world views such as captured in the ridiculously popular Left Behind series of books. Either way we end up dismounted from the proper perspective of faith. The evil one is still hard at work trying to draw us away from the true faith with parlor tricks and with petty distractions. We are much too easily distracted.

One of the themes of the book is that the devil and his minions always try to misdirect our attention. Our Ephesians text gets at this too. We are in a spiritual struggle. We get our attention mistakenly fixed on flesh and blood. Our ultimate struggles aren’t with people. We wrangle with powers and principalities. People and circumstances perhaps offer flesh and sinew to our struggles but the real skeleton is one of spiritual forces of evil and powers and principalities. Our prayers and our strategies should reflect a deeper and more spiritual insight when we pray. Perhaps one of the reasons Jesus was able to pray for those who had crucified him while yet on the cross was that he understood what struggle was really underway. The Roman soldiers and the religious leaders were more akin to pawns in the conflict.

We are engaged in struggles in this world and in spiritual realms. We are called to strive to be faithful and focused during the things that assail us. The armor of God as detailed above gives many ways in which to seek to endure the onslaughts. May we find deep truth and powerful inspiration in those Holy Spirit blown life-giving words this week.

Please pray for those who are messengers of the gospel (which is all of us if we take seriously the priesthood of all believers) that they may “make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” to a world that is easily distracted and only half listening. May all of us speak with boldness. May all of us hear with the requisite attention.

God, give us wisdom to see past the surface tensions to the battles that rage in the spiritual realms. Help us all to put on the full armor of God and fight the good fight. Stir us to be ambassadors of your reconciliation and bearers of your good news. Amen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

e-vo for week of August 12

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed lessons for this coming Sunday from Proverbs 9:1-6, Psalm 34:9-14 and the Ephesians text below all talk about wisdom.

There are all sorts of ways to be in the world this day. Not all are equally wise nor pleasing to our God.

May we find ways to live in the freedom God has granted us and drink in life in such a way that others want a taste and in such a way that God is pleased.



Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-20, NRSV

It seems that we are called in the text above to become fluent in God's will. We are called to discern what is wise and what is not. As the flashcards of daily life and the choices come rushing at us--threatening us with consequences of choices made poorly--we need to choose well. Like learning any language it takes time with the basics and rote work to gain any basic understanding. The nuances and the fancy wordplay come so much later. Knowing the accounts of scripture offers us the basic grammar of living wisely. Practicing our conversational faith in community has big benefits. Every day is a pop quiz--are we studying?

The text moves from living wisely to living as a joyful song. We are to lift up psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We are to sing in accord with God's will. We are to offer up songs of thanksgiving. Images of Paul and Silas having a hymn sing in prison in Acts 16:25 come to mind. Making music in the face of life's disasters (like the string quartet in the movie Titanic) come to mind. Strains of defiant and joyful music that won't be quashed (like the jazz music that bathed us at our recent youth gathering in New Orleans) by the bumps and scars of life comes to mind.

At the heart of our music needs to be attitudes of thanksgiving. All the blessings we have come from the hand of our gracious God. All the challenges that come are way can be endured and sometimes even redeemed through the guidance and strength and comfort that comes from God. If we truly understand what all God has done and continues to do for us we can't help but offer praise and thanksgiving.

God, teach us to live wisely, to sing boldly and to thank often. The world tries to twist our thinking, muffle our song and cultivate discontent. Give us guidance and strength and comfort to resist the sham promises of this world and to draw deeply into the true and reliable promises that you offer. We pray this in the name of Jesus--Amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

e-vo for week of August 5

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed epistle lesson for this week has some pointed things to say about how we are in relationship with others. This is one of those texts that is easy to use as a club on others that we think are missing the mark. So much more would God prefer that we would examine ourselves through the mirror of this text.

God’s mercies are new every morning for us and for those that we deem have failed us and our communities. May we all grow into the likeness of God.



So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2, NRSV

I picked up a pithy saying from a hospital chaplain’s office while out doing a visit one day. It says…

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you
-not because they are nice, but because you are.

I keep this saying posted on my bathroom mirror at home. I see it often and it greets me as I rise to face the new day. To be sure it would be better if the language of “politeness” and “nice” were upgraded to language of service and sacrificial love but the point is still there. The presumption that I am nice is patently false. Every day I need to go to the baptismal font engage God’s mercies and let the old Karl be drowned and the new Karl rise up to engage the day. There is a persistent call on me not merely to be nice but to be loving in the ways that Jesus loved. For all of us who are baptized that call rings out.

Our text in Ephesians helps clarify that call on us. We are to engage people lovingly and truthfully. We are to engage our feelings but to not let them draw us into sin. We are to work towards reconciliation. Those who have dishonest means of gains in their lives (that would be all of us I suspect) are to put them aside and labor more honestly. We are to share with the needy and avoid grieving the Holy Spirit.

Our talk is for building up others. Gossip and slander are to be put away. Anger and bitterness and wrath are to be expunged. Jockeying for position (which necessarily shoves others aside) is not for us and God’s people. We are called to be imitators of God. We are called to be imitators of Christ.
If we want an example of treating from one’s own character rather than in response to the provocation we need look no further than the cross:

“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

has everything to do with who Jesus is. We are called to be imitators of that.

God, stir us to love all sacrificially particularly those who don’t deserve it. That is how you are with us and that is how you want us to be. Help us to grow up in ways that please you all to your glory. Amen.