Saturday, October 31, 2009

e-vo for week of November 4

Dearest e-votees-

I will be away next week and not so reliably able to access computers so I thought I would send out this e-vo in advance.

The account of the widow of Zarephath seems fitting in these times of economic stress. Our church is actively involved in a ministry called Zarephath kitchen which provides meals for those in need. We have been blessed many times over hearing God’s call to serve and offering hospitality.

May our hearts be stirred to be hospitable and empty places set at our tables in hopes that others might come.



Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah (the Tishbite, of Tishbee in Gilead courtesy of 17:1)] , saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

1 Kings 17:8-16, NRSV

There are two powerful stands of this story:

STRAND 1: When God calls people into service their needs will be provided.

This story comes on the heels of Elijah being miraculously fed by the ravens. God knows our needs and our desires intimately. When God invites, calls, presses, cajoles, mandates us into service we can be sure that God will care for us. Jesus says as much when he talks of the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28-34; Luke 12:22-31). If we have ears to hear we will resonate with Elijah and be willing to step into God’s callings trusting that God will indeed provide. How might God be calling us to step out in faith and into service?

STRAND 2: When we share out of hospitality and sacrificial giving we will be okay.

The woman has her mind set on making a last supper of meal for herself and her son. After that it will be time to die. She has lost sight of hope for the future. God, through Elijah, interrupted her despair. As she boldly cared for Elijah she found that the end wasn’t so near after all. The book Three Cups of Tea talks of how the course of Greg Mortensen’s life and many villages were changed forever through the hospitality he was offered when he stumbled lost into the wrong village after a failed attempt to scale K2. (There is also a Young Reader’s Edition of Three Cups of Tea). That book is well worth your time to read. When we allow God to steer us out of our comfort zones and welcome the stranger with food and drink and compassion we have profound encounters with God. As we encounter God the other concerns come into alignment. As we encounter God circumstances that seemed surely fatal have new life breathed into them. How might God be calling us to step out in hospitality?

Answering calls in faith is a powerful strand at work in this account. Radical hospitality is a powerful strand at work in this account. But being bold—in our own flesh—to strike out may not be sufficient. Pouring ourselves out—in our own flesh—in service of another might not be sufficient. These strands—as noble as they are—can get frayed and give way under the weight of the needs of this world.

God is the third strand that offers strength and endurance. God is the one who calls us to service. God is the one who calls us to be hospitable. With God woven through our service and our hospitality we will surely endure:

A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12b, NRSV

God, gives us ears to hear your call to service. Give us hearts to welcome hungry strangers to our tables. Shape us again into your image. Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

e-vo for week of October 28

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday there are two sets of appointed lessons—one for All Saints Day and the other for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. We’ll use the appointed epistle lesson from the All Saints Day readings shape our time together.

May your time remembering saints alive and those who have gone before be blessed this weekend.



Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Ten he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Revelation 21:1-6a, NRSV

Revelation and people’s interpretations have caused plenty of excitement, confusion and problems. Some want to take it literally and have sold many, many books with fiction based on such a reading. Others want to take it as a book about the end times (“eschatological” would be the fancy seminary adjective for such literature). Still others want to experience this text now without being constrained to the literal reading. Where do you fall on this range of ways in which to engage the words of Revelation?

Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that God’s word is living and active—and so is this text. Isaiah 55:10-11 remind us that God’s word does not return without fulfilling the purpose for which it is sent—and so it is with this text.

This text is grounded in our present reality and it speaks of how things will ultimately be.

God makes a home with us mortals. The word suggests that God makes a tent or a tabernacle with us (like God did with the folks during the exodus). God enters into our world (“eternity stepped into time” is how Michael Card sings it in “The Final Word”). Jesus came into time and interacted with the apostles and Mary, Martha and Lazarus and still is at work in the world and in our lives through the Holy Spirit. God is making all things new.

God will ultimately make a home with us mortals. Death will be no more. Tears will be gone. We catch glimpses of that this Sunday in the gospel text as Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead (but not the final resurrection as he indeed died again). Mary and Martha tears are soothed for a time. God will bring that about for all of us who call on God and rest in God’s mercy. God will indeed renew all things.

God help us to know the blessings you have bestowed on us—now and those to come. Help us receive those blessings well. May we bless our neighbors now. May we bless and praise you now and always. You are the beginning and the end. Help us rest assured that our futures are in your gracious hands. Amen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

e-vo for week of October 21

Dear e-votees-

This Sunday is the Sunday set aside to commemorate the Reformation. May your worship be full of stirring music, deep and profound preaching boldly proclaiming God’s word and lavish grace.



Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Romans 3:19-28, NRSV

Wasn’t so long ago that I was preaching at a friend’s installation. One of his chosen texts was Psalm 82. It made mention of showing partiality to the wicked. I took that scripture as an opportunity to remind my friend and those in earshot that one of the ways that we show partiality to the wicked is when we temper and soften the sharp edges of scripture because we deeply care for the folks we are addressing. I said that he had been called to serve a wicked people (not necessarily more wicked than anyone else but wicked nonetheless). I encouraged him to preach boldly and show them no partiality. Some who heard took offense that I had called them (and all people) wicked. Some of us don’t like having the old Adam and the old Eve called out.

The truth is that we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. No qualifications. No softening of this. All of us are sinful and wicked. All have need of salvation that comes from outside our own efforts.

The law is set aside as a means of justification through Jesus’ glorious work on the cross. We are saved by faith--not works. We are saved by grace--not works. We are saved by Jesus’ work and fulfillment of the law and the prophet-not by the law.

We don’t boast. We don’t Lord it over others. We receive it by faith and point others to the same gracious banquet that we have stumbled into by God’s mercy.

God, be glorified in our worship this weekend. Help us live into your radical salvation by grace through faith. Draw others up to the table as well. Use us as seems good and proper to you. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

e-vo for week of October 14

Dearest e-votees-

My goodness the week got away from me. My apologies.

Our appointed gospel text for this weekend are the bookends of the gospel of Luke. The opening bookend addressed to Theophilus—literally god lover—tells what Luke is intending to do throughout the gospel (and Acts too which is also addressed to Theophilus). The closing bookend has Jesus revisiting what has happened during his time with the disciples and sets the stage for Pentecost and the post-resurrection church. This, of course, is the story that continues in Acts.

May our day begin and end and throughout the middle be full of that power that comes from on high. May we diligently and faithfully serve and see that God’s good purposes are bearing fruit in our lives.



Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Luke 1:1-4, 24:44-53, NRSV

This quote from Jesus about everything written about him in the law and the prophets and the psalms is unique. I can find 11 verses in the New Testament (all but one in the gospels and Acts) that mention both the law and the prophets. Only the verse above in Luke adds the psalms to that formula.

Jesus came to fulfill the law. God has holy and righteous expectations for God’s people. There is a way that we are to live. There is a way that we are to carry ourselves in the world. There is a covenant that puts expectations and obligations on us. From the first accounts in Genesis on God’s people have not been able to live up to the things laid out before us in the law. Sometimes we try very hard, other times we lean hard on cheap grace and barely lift a finger. Jesus came to fulfill what we could not and would not. Moses appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration was a sign that Jesus was intimately connected with God’s purposes through the law. The law has been accomplished through Jesus.

Jesus came to fulfill the prophets. God has holy and hopeful visions and dreams for God’s people. There is a way that we are to live into. There is a way that God’s dreams and God’s plans are to carry us into the future. From the first revelations of God’s hope and deliverance in Genesis on God’s people have not done so well living into the hopeful and life-giving future laid out before us in the prophets. Jesus came to fulfill what we could not see and dared not step into. Elijah appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration was a sign that Jesus was intimately connected with God’s plans for God’s people. Our future has been secured through Jesus.

Jesus came to fulfill the human experience. Deitrich Bonhoeffer called the book of psalms (the psalter) the prayer book of the Bible. When Jesus prayed he often drew his words and images from the psalms. Jesus became fully one of us to show us how to live. The psalms bear the whole range of human experience—joy, sorrow, anger, despair, isolation, hope, etc., etc. Jesus entered fully into our mortal existence. When we so often live life on the fringes not daring to step on the dance floor or jump in the pool Jesus comes and tears into life. When the psalms appear on Jesus’ lips even during his dying moments on the cross it is a sign for us how intimately Jesus is connected with us. Our adoption into God’s family is complete as God becomes fully one of us through Jesus.

All that is left to do now is to live into the things Jesus has already fulfilled. And we don’t do this alone. There is a power that comes from on high and brings the words of Jesus to our minds. There is a power that reminds us of God’s laws and prophecies. There is a power that reminds us that God knows our every finest detail and loves us relentlessly. Things are coming to fulfillment including the good work that God began in us. Amen.

God, draw us into Jesus more fully. Blow your Holy Spirit through our live that brings life to dead and dusty bones and hope to withered dreams. Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

e-vo for week of October 7

Dear e-votees-

God’s word is living and active--powerful and dangerous. It tells of Jesus. Jesus who was living and active on this earth some 2,000 years ago. Jesus who is living and active this day in the world and in the lives of the believers. There is still an invitation extended to approach the throne of grace with boldness. This day mercy and grace are extended to us and to all in our times of need.

May we live today like we believe these things and that our salvation depends on them—for in fact they do.



Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:12-16, NRSV

When I was in the 2nd grade I decided to explore the center of a golf ball (I heard there was a core like a super ball) with my jackknife. I started to carve away the outer layer. The knife stuck. It then came loose rather suddenly. The knife blade skimmed around the surface of the golf ball I was holding until it came to rest embedded in my non-carving hand. I lost knife privileges for a while.

Our curiosity can take us down some bad paths and leave us wounded (apparently it can be lethal to those of the feline persuasion as well). We might engage in things that can seem playful or innocuous but later realize what we have done. Sometimes the mistake isn’t realized until the trip to the emergency room or the irretrievable crisis.

One of the ways we can help avoid such trips and such situations is to immerse ourselves in God’s words. Our naïve understanding of the things in which we dabble can be developed as we ponder God’s plans for us and how we are to be in the world. The words of scripture—particularly the law—act as a guide and a curb to our more base and more self-seeking behaviors.

To be sure lots of folks who know and love the Bible make many missteps. But if they have pored over the Bible they know that God loves all sorts of people who should know better but do otherwise—Adam, Eve, Cain, Abraham, David, Peter, Saul (aka Paul) and ______________ (your name here).

Jesus knows about our jackknifes and our golf balls—times where curiosity and naïveté get the best of us. Jesus knows all about our times when our descent into sin is much more deliberate and intentional. Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses and our struggles. Grace and mercy are available to us and to all. This is not a free pass. We still walk out the consequences of our choices. I can show you the scar in my hand to this day from my golf ball surgery. I bet we could spend a long time swapping scar stories—most of which aren’t so easy to point to in the flesh. But Jesus’ grace and mercy are a balm for our scars.

There is help for us in our times of need. And we would do well to help others find that balm as well. We are all walking wounded—and some of us know the Great Physician. Let’s not keep that a secret.

Jesus, you are the healer of our every ill. Help us draw near to you. Help us draw near your living and active word. Do your work in us. Help us do your work in the world—all to your glory. Amen.