Wednesday, December 29, 2010

e-vo for week of January 29

Dearest e-votees-

New Year’s Day is the eighth day after we commemorate Jesus birth on December 25 (counting partial days like we do when we say Jesus was raised on the third day). It is on this day that we commemorate Jesus being named. It is on the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life that he would traditionally be named and circumcised (see Leviticus 12:3 and Luke 2:15-21 which is the appointed gospel text for this day in the church year).

For this week’s e-vo we will spend some time pondering the name of Jesus.



5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11, NRSV

When you take on someone’s name or do something in someone’s name (through adoption or while acting as an emissary) you strive to do the sorts of things that would be done by or would reflect well on the one whose name you are bearing.

Jesus came in the name of God the Father. He carried himself by living as a slave (servant is too soft a translation here). He served and healed and taught and washed feet and gave up what was rightfully his. He gave his whole life to service and eventually was martyred on the form of a cross. Jesus chose to live and die as a servant to be the best representation of God the Father.

God the Father’s response was to bring Jesus back from the dead and exalt him to his rightful place. All other names are trumped by the name of Jesus. Through that name we can be saved. In that name we baptize. It is in that name that we are called to pick up our own crosses and follow after him.

We are made in God’s image. We also bear the form of God. We have been made right with God through Jesus’ work on the cross. We could rest contentedly on our salvation. We are called to empty ourselves as well and take on the form of a slave. We are to humble ourselves. We might be called to lay down our lives literally in the form of a martyr. We might be called to lay down our lives figuratively as we allow God to do with and through us what God will. We are called to follow after Jesus even if that service or that death comes in the form of a cross.

We need not worry about our name, our reputation or the commendations we do or do not receive. Those things pale in the light of Jesus’ glory and honor. When people want to heap praise and adoration on us our better response is akin to the one Jesus offers in Luke 17:10—“We are worthless slaves; we have only done as we ought to have done!” The only real evaluation that matters is from our master. May we all hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” when that time comes.

God, teach us to cherish and live into the strong name of Jesus—the name into which we are baptized; the name which saves us; the name which we confess. Help us bring honor and glory to that name—help us shun the things that degrade that name and degrade us. We pray this things in that same strong name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

e-vo for week of December 22

Dearest e-votees-

There are lots of important days in the church year coming up in the next several days: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, day commemorating St. Stephen and his martyrdom, day commemorating St. John, day commemorating the slaughter of the Innocents, etc., etc. It is amazing to ponder the broad range of highs and lows: God’s exultation, God’s incarnation, lives that cast off a holy light and dark and dreadful moments.

May we all be blessed and present in all the aspects of this powerful time in the church year.



Our appointed epistle lesson for Christmas Day is:

1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4, NRSV

There is a favorite author of mine, Gordon Atkinson, who goes (or went, on hiatus from writing for the time being) by the moniker Real Live Preacher. He writes and thinks in a way that is earthy and salty and faithful and searching and true.

One of his essays that is among my personal favorites is…

“Hollowed Be Thy Name” (can be found at

This essay talks about how our world with its modern sensibilities completely eviscerates the message that is the good news of Jesus Christ. Well, we don’t so much eviscerate it as just completely don’t care. The greatest story ever told becomes window dressing and mood lighting for whatever else we are doing—unless it demands too much of us then we tone it down and try to keep it in its place.

The killing of St. Stephen by stoning and the attempt to wipe out Jesus through the slaughter of the Innocents were attempts for humanity to keep God become human under control. When the Creator stepped into creation the creatures weren’t so very receptive.

The good news is that Jesus, “the exact imprint of God’s very being”, has come into the world. It has changed the world. It has changed and is changing us. No matter how resistant or indifferent we are God has spoken and (as the UCC through the last written words of Gracie Allen to George burns so vividly reminds us “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”) God is still speaking. The Word has spoken and it is a word of healing and grace. And God’s words accomplish the purposes for which they were sent (see Isaiah 55:10-11).

May we all know the Word. May we all be attentive to the world (at its best and at its worst). May we rejoice with those who rejoice this season and offer comfort to those who mourn. May we celebrate well and invite those who might otherwise not celebrate to our tables. May we sing with angels and mourn with those who have had loved ones wrenched away.

God, speak to us and through us all to your glory. Help us worship you with authenticity and truth and joy. Help us never forget the martyrs and draw deeply from the grace and truth of the gospel. Help us to not hollow out your name but to let it rest deeply in us. Teach us to hallow; teach us to serve; teach us to love. Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

e-vo for week of December 15

Dearest e-votees-

We are just about to Christmas time. This week’s gospel text takes us right up to the birth of Jesus.

Some people have a hard time keeping separate what we know from scripture versus what has been added on as tradition over the years. A somewhat amusing yet helpful discussion of this can be found at:

If you really like it, you can purchase it to keep in your personal library for $15.00.

That said, let’s look at this week’s gospel lesson being careful not to read into it too much.



18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25, NRSV

Matthew tells us basic circumstance into which Jesus was born. Luke also has a nativity account. They add different shades and nuances to the nativity scene. It is worth reading them separately and comparing them. Mark and John are quite silent about the event which we call Christmas.

Mary has been profoundly promised to Joseph. Before they were together sexually Mary becomes pregnant. Joseph is going to do the stand up thing and divorce her quietly (produce a certificate and send her on her way). Since she was betrothed she could have been accused of adultery and subject to death by stoning. Joseph was hoping to spare her this fate.

An angel tells him in a dream to do otherwise. The angel gives the baby the name Jesus (which means “he saves”) and connects him with the prophecy in Isaiah that gives him the name Emmanuel (which means “God is with us”). Joseph heeds the instructions of the angel, takes Mary as his wife and abstains sexually until Jesus is born. Joseph disappears from Matthew after the 2nd chapter and only shows up in a passing reference in Matthew 13:55 (which incorrectly attributes him to be the physical father of Jesus).

Apparently as far as Matthew is concerned everything of significance that Joseph did surrounded staying the course with marrying Mary and protecting Jesus from the persecutions of Herod.

Joseph was akin to Mary in that he heard and obeyed what God was calling them to do. Because of their faithfulness Jesus was born, named, protected and raised so that he might become Jesus (the one who saves) and Emmanuel (God with us).

What might God calling us to be or do so that the saving God and the abiding God might be more realized in us and through us? Is it to risk public shame or humiliation? Is it to keep doing what we intended even though circumstances have profoundly shifted the event? Is it to pick up and move to escape (or maybe to relieve) persecutions? Or perhaps it is not about us being or doing anything so much as drawing up into the story as given by Matthew and Luke. Emmanuel, God with us, is found here, will we be found with God? We should pray so.

Lord, bless our time of Advent and Christmas. Help us be drawn up into the accounts. Help us trust and obey no matter the cost to our reputation. Help us to be people of faith. Do with us as you will. Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

e-vo for week of December 8

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed texts for this coming Sunday (the 3rd Sunday of Advent) have some themes of waiting and patience.

May your patience and your time biding for the completion of God’s abiding promises be blessed.



Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

James 5:7-10, NRSV

Advent is a season of waiting and preparation. It is a hard season for many of us:

• The preparations can seem so large and the expectations of some so tyrannical.
• Many of us have become much too acclimated to instant gratification.
• The world can eviscerate the season making it into get-mas (focusing primarily on the material aspects of Christmas).
• Our families and friends can eviscerate the season making it into guilt-mas (focusing on places where others have come up short and failed to meet expectations).
• Even people who know better get distracted and derailed—take John the Baptist for example…

This Sunday’s appointed gospel text from Matthew 11 has John in prison. He is sending word to Jesus via disciples to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John is certainly waiting as he passes time in prison. He has pointed to Jesus (as he does in traditional paintings) and allowed himself to be made small that Jesus might increase and usher in the kingdom. For all the fanfare and hype that John provided perhaps Jesus seems a little lackluster. John wants some assurance. Perhaps John is leaning on where cousin Jesus has not properly met expectations. Perhaps John is too focused on the material in terms of a palpable kingdom. You would think John would know better.

How easily do we get swept off-course by the frenzy that is the holidays? Cards and gifts and meals and reunions and decorating and trees and holiday parties and … Sometimes the celebrations get so out of hand it feels as if we are going to lose our head (hopefully not so literally as John at that one party). We can allow Christmas to lose its essential portions—to become eviscerated. The truth is the first Christmas slipped under the radar of two gospel accounts—we don’t always recognize such things when they appear. It was long awaited (over many years and hopeful prophecies). It didn’t bear the trappings of all the traditions that have accumulated over the years (a few gifts that probably came quite a bit later than Jesus’ birthday). Christmas is a powerful event where, as Michael Card sings, eternity stepped into time so we could understand. But it sure doesn’t always line up with the hype and the hoopla that the world and the church creates. And sometimes we let ourselves get distracted. You think we would know better.

May we all be patient:

• …as the kingdom doesn’t always come as fast as we would like or in the forms we would like.
• …as people are people and hurt us and are hurt by us (perhaps rather than grumble about them we can pray for them).
• …as we disappoint ourselves or imagine we have disappointed God—may God’s grace surprise us.
• …as we wait in prisons (literal or figurative) at times wondering if this Jesus is the real deal.

Jesus’ response to John involved pointing to the life that was apparent—healings, restored sight, people coming back from the dead. Our response to all of the things that might distract us is to point to the life that is apparent—God in the manger, God in the world, God in us and God coming again. May your waiting and your pointing be blessed.

God, come and be with us. Give us faith and hearts and patience that we might serve you well. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

e-vo for week of December 1

Dearest e-votees-

Blessed Advent to you. I hope and pray that you find yourselves surrounded by friends and family during this time of preparation and waiting that is Advent. If your church offers special worship services during Advent I would encourage you to be part of those experiences as you and your whole community of faith prepare for Christ again in the manger as well as Christ to come again with finality to usher in the kingdom in its entirety.



11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:11-14, NRSV

This week’s appointed epistle text is short, sweet and to the point.

It is ironic that while some of us are still rousing from a tryptophan induced coma from all of the Thanksgiving turkey and all of the other fixings that we are called to be alert and wakeful. It is ironic that we are called to make no provision for the flesh when some of us just added to our ample supply with second helpings of everything. It is ironic that we are called to not spend time quarreling and being jealous as we move into what can be prime family squabble times as the holiday gatherings commence. It is indeed ironic.

Or maybe not so much ironic as timely.

We live in a world and a time and a country where we are often drowsy and bloated and quarrelsome and quite able and willing to take license. There are so many things that tickle our fancies and distract our spirits from the one thing that is needful.

Salvation is near. It is near liturgically as we are about to enter into the nativity scene again as word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Salvation is near as we don’t know how many more sands there are in our hourglasses or those of all of us collectively. As Alexander Gee Jr. posted on Facebook this morning “Gotta give it our best today. Tomorrow is NOT a guarantee. Live purposefully & thoughtfully.” We all would do well to live with an urgency and an expectancy and a reverent fear and a hopefulness which is really what Advent is all about.

Mostly we ought to live in high and holy expectation because Jesus came into our world and gave it his best. Our future is guaranteed. Because our futures are secure in the sure and certain promises of Jesus we can dare to live with purpose and with reverent and prayerful thought.

In baptism we were clothed with Jesus (see Galatians 3:26-27). We have put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Daily we are invited to remember our baptisms and put on Christ again. When we die we are covered like a funeral pall with the sure and certain promises of resurrection to life eternal.

May we all be wakeful and alert and hopeful and share that good news with a drowsy, quarrelsome, jealous, petty world that all too often we stoop to join.

God, shape us into the Advent people that you have called us to be. We wait and trust. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

e-vo for week of November 24

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. If you are so inclined there is a fairly thorough Wikipedia article about Advent. May we be blessed as we prepare ourselves for Jesus coming liturgically in the manger and again to finally usher in the kingdom of God.



Jesus speaking:

"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Matthew 24:36-44, NRSV

I’m not a huge fan of the Left Behind movies (I’m sure partly because they leave the youth pastor behind while taking away the faithful lead pastor). There really is a whole lot of theological imagination and expansion of just a few passages to create that endtime (eschatological) worldview. Perhaps it provides some entertainment but pretty sketchy as a way to open up the more cryptic parts of scripture.

I did find the opening scene of the movie with people dramatically raptured away reminiscent of the images stirred up by our appointed gospel text for this Sunday. Two out in the field, one suddenly gone. Two making meal, one suddenly gone. The point Jesus seems to be making is that the time when time is done will catch many unawares. We should live in expectancy and hope as Jesus WILL come usher in the kingdom at an unexpected hour.

So the question that we could ponder is what must we do to get ready? Is it about living the good and proper life? Is it about selling all we have, giving it to the poor and waiting patiently on our last piece of sackcloth? Is it about properly receiving Jesus into our heart through the sinner’s prayer? Is it about going to church faithfully and tithing? Is it about […fill in your potentially legalistic works oriented idea here…]?

What is required to be ready when Jesus returns?

Some say we should live every 5 minutes like they are our last 5 minutes (cue up Stephen Curtis Chapman song). It is hard to maintain that focus (anxiety?) for year upon year—going on about 2,000 years and counting.

Perhaps we should ground ourselves in the deep truth that we are saved by God’s grace. Jesus did what we could not on the cross. We are saved. Because of that we can do whatever—work in the field, make meal, watch a movie, go to school, play Wii, love our families, reach out to those on the fringes, rest, play, worship—knowing that we will be among those that Jesus will gather up upon his return.

God loves you. God saves you. Be assured.

God, bless this time of Advent. Help us return again to the scene at the rustic manger. Help us, too, keep our eyes and hearts open for your final return. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Friday, November 19, 2010

e-vo for week of November 17

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday (the last of the liturgical year) is Christ the King Sunday.

May we all be aware of the grace and the love and the blessings that God has showered upon us. And may we strive to be agents of God’s grace and agents of God’s love and agents of God’s blessing in the world.



33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Luke 23:33-43, NRSV

The other three gospel accounts mention two others crucified with Jesus (John doesn’t tell us that they were robbers) but Luke is by far the most detailed account of the two crucified with him. Church tradition gives names to these two criminals—Gestas is the one who mocks Jesus, Dysmas (or Dismas) is the one Jesus promises will be in Paradise. Dysmas is the patron saint of prisoners, undertakers and repentant thieves.

The real question is which of the two thieves are you? There are really two ways to go through this life and into the next:

Option GESTAS: We can live our lives however we want. We can get to the very end and still be deriding others. It takes a lot of hatred to waste your last breaths (painful ones at that when you are being crucified) tearing down someone sharing your same fate. How many of us are mean and spiteful and bitter even to the very end? Rather than having compassion and care on those who share our lot we tear at them. To the bitter end Gestas betrays the sin and the brokenness that was his life. It was that bitterness and sinfulness and brokenness that got Jesus on the cross too.

Option DYSMAS: We can get to the point (no matter how late in life) where we realize living our lives however we want is not what we want. We realize that our own choices and endeavors won’t end well without a healthy fear of God and dose of humility. We can approach Jesus, who joins us in our broken and condemned state, and ask him to remember us. Jesus will indeed remember us and speak the same sorts of words that he did to Dysmas on the cross.

If Christ is the king then we are not. There is really only room for one on a throne. If we demand to be in control God will let our lives take their natural consequences—that’s option GESTAS. If we allow Jesus to be on the throne he will establish his good and gracious and welcoming kingdom—that’s option DYSMAS.

If we really want God to treat us like Jesus did Dysmas then we have to be prepared to receive a whole lot more Dysmases as well. God’s grace doesn’t stop with us. God’s unmerited welcome into the kingdom doesn’t stop with us. May we know that good news well and share it enthusiastically. Amen.

God, we thank you for your kingdom. Let it come in us. We thank you that your kingdom is open to so many. Help us graciously help usher them in and receive them lovingly—all to your glory. Amen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

e-vo for week of November 10

Dearest e-votees-

In what do you do place your hope and your trust? Where do your ground your existence? Your happiness? Your future? What if those things turn out to be less lasting and trustworthy than you had hoped? What then?

Our appointed gospel text for this Sunday talks about a world that is not so secure and what it looks like to be a person of faith and hope in uncertain times and places.

Perhaps there is something in those words for us in this world that doesn’t always seem so secure.



5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6 "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." 7 They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" 8 And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and, "The time is near!' Do not go after them. 9 "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." 10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Luke 21:5-19, NRSV

What are the temples in your life? What are the lavish buildings or organizations or institutions that captivate them when you draw near? If you could spend time luxuriating in an environment and a history and a worldview where would you go? What is your place of hope and trust? Is it in representational government? Is it in the strength and ideals of our military? Is in the confines and supportive environment of married life? Is it in the power and strength of the gathered church? Is it in the deep and abiding relationships of dear friends and cherished mentors? Is it in your hope that rightly motivated and socially aware people can change the world (as Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”) Is your temple more along the lines of your own health and vitality? Where you bring your offerings of hope and faith and trust? Which temple draws you and draws your breath away? Where do you bring your offerings?

Jesus throws some cold water into the faces of those with dreamy expressions luxuriating in the glory of the temple. Surely the adoration was for more than the building but also the history and the covenant and the experiences that were represented by this beautiful and storied structure. But these things don’t always last. For the temple it was in 70 AD when the Romans came and destroyed and desecrated this holy place. To this day you can go and see the rubble that used to be this glorious building. Some gather to pray at the western wall. Some, undoubtedly, wait until it will again be rebuilt and God will get things back under control.

The hard truth is that the temples in our lives are also passing away. They may not be leveled in a short time. They might be eroded through an accumulation of neglected moments and opportunities and other corrosive forces. They may be weakened and traumatized by reckless moments of all too palpable humanity. The sanctity of marriage and our hopes that reverently spoken vows bore may be desecrated. We might learn all too quickly how truly fantastic a fairy tale Mr. Smith Goes to Washington really is. The pains and lasting scars and brutal realities of wars and rumors of wars do take their toll. The gathered church has much corporate sin on her hands. The approach in Blue Like Jazz to begin by confessing the broken nature of the church seems right. Friends and mentors and other guardian angels lose their haloes sometimes. Our bodies eventually return back to the dust from which they were formed—sometimes more gracefully than others but often not. All of our temples are subject to destruction from without and from within.

Beyond that, persecution comes. Sometimes it is only in body. Sometimes so much more. As people try to raise the hope and power of the gospel others lash out. As we struggle to give testimony and to live faithfully even as life as we know it shifts out from under us we can come under attack. We may think that we have no words to speak or that our words are drowned out by the hypocritical actions that come as our saint-sinner package deal.

Jesus tells his hearers that he will give them words when they are called to give testimony. I believe that this scripture couldn’t have been far from Luther’s mind when he was called upon to recant all his writings before the temple dwellers of his day. I take deep comfort in these words when sermons don’t come easily. Perhaps Jesus’ words offer you some assurance as well—that is my prayer.

The point of what Jesus says is this—don’t put your trust and hope in the wrong places. Salvation comes through him. When we get it wrong—which we often do—our choices and misplaced trusts can be harmful and destructive to us and to those around us. When we get it right—which we sometimes do—the attacks on us will grow more fiercely hot. Thanks be to God that it really isn’t about us getting it right or wrong. It is about Jesus getting it—and us—right and trusting in that. That is our trust and our hope. That confession is not subject to destruction and decay and atrophy as are all the idol temples that come into our lives. Thanks be to God that Jesus will not forsake us.

God, help us learn to trust and confess in you. We thank you for all the many supports and structures that we find in this world from your gracious hand. Help us never put them in your place. Help us love and serve you boldly. And we thank you this day, particularly, for veterans who love and serve country and fellow citizens boldly. Help us reverence our blessed dead and help us pray—as Jesus taught us—for our enemies. We long for the day when the modern equivalent of swords are beaten into the modern equivalent of plowshares. Amen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

e-vo for week of November 3

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is set aside as All Saints Sunday. All Saints Day is November 1. We recognize this day in church on the first Sunday after the 1st on the years when All Saints Day does not fall on a Sunday. So in our Lutheran church All Saints falls on the Sunday right after Reformation Sunday which falls on or before October 31.

May you and all the saints with you have a blessed time of remembrance and celebration this week in worship.



11 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, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 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; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:11-23, NRSV

Many churches will remember their blessed dead on this Sunday. Names will be read, prayers will be offered, commemorative chimes may be tolled. At my previous call we would put flowers out in the memorial garden as part of the children’s sermon. Some churches do baptismal remembrance as well as we think upon the new saints who were added to the flock in the past year. What will you be doing to celebrate the saints—new and old; living and gone to be with the Lord; in your church and across the world—this week at church?

The Ephesians text that is above is our appointed epistle text for All Saints Sunday. It reminds us that we have an inheritance. Jesus has accomplished a great work on the cross and we are graciously included in the list of those who will benefit from the gift. We are saved and redeemed. Our future is made secure because of the gift and the work of Jesus. We are called into a hope that transcends any temporary pitfalls and struggles. We are called into a joy that will completely overshadow the griefs and pains that can be so debilitating now. We are called into place of rest and celebration and comfort that makes small the bleary and despairing and painful parts of life that may beset us now.

This joyous inheritance is large and wide. It is for all peoples from all times and all places who receive the gracious gift from God. Part of our joy is that we get to extend this invitation to all. We gather and remind ourselves and our blessed guests fashioned in the image of God of what is to come.

And part of our joy is that we don’t have to wait until death and Jesus’ second coming to start experiencing these things. God’s inheritance is coming to bear now. We are called to share in that inheritance and perhaps even to serves as midwives birthing those good promises into the world.

We are made holy. We are saved. We get to respond in love and service. Thanks be to God.

God, fill us with your joy about your inheritance that is coming and that which is already here. Help us commemorate our blessed dead and live to the full the good news that is from Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

e-vo for week of October 27

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday has lots going on. It is proper 26 in the Revised Common Lectionary. The appointed lesson is Jesus and Zacchaeus. It is the account of a live transformed by an encounter with the living God. This Sunday is also what is known at Reformation Sunday. It is the time when Prostestant churches commemorate the deep truths that were lifted up from scripture by Martin Luther about salvation purely by grace. It is a time when we celebrate the word being proclaimed in a tongue that is understood by the people and the good news of the gospel. It is an account of lives transformed by encounters with the living God. This Sunday is also Halloween—a time of job security for dentists across the globe and a time to dabble in things a little more spooky and other wordly. Perhaps it is a time when we ponder encounters with things—living and dead—that are more powerful than us and surely not our good and living God.

For our focus this week we’ll use the appointed epistle for Reformation Sunday from Romans. May we all be blessed that we might share those blessings with all the people we encounter this week—saintly and sinful, no matter their faith, no matter their station in life and no matter what kind of costumes or masks they are wearing as they make their way through this life.



19 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. 20 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. 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Romans 3:19-28, NRSV

The essence of the gospel can really be found in Romans 3:23-24.

We have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have not lived into the image of God in which we were created. We were made and fashioned to be loving and gracious and giving people. We were made to be like Jesus who poured himself out for those who hated and reviled him. We were made to be like Jesus to serve as agents of healing in a broken world. We were made to be good stewards of all the gifts we receive from God—time, talent, treasure, creation, our relationships with other people, our bodies, the stories and blessings that come from others, etc., etc.

The music group Switchfoot says it this way in “Meant to Live”:

We were meant to live for so much more. Have we lost ourselves?

The simple answer to that lyrical question is yes, we have lost ourselves. We have wandered away and pierced ourselves and many with deep and lasting wounds. We have broken faith and covenant with our Maker. Left to our own devices we fail ourselves, we fail others and we fail God.

God knows our painful and broken ways. God experienced them firsthand as the spikes of wrath were driven into his hands and feet. God experienced them when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God knows all too well how we have wounded ourselves with our transgressions.

The good news is that God has come into the world as an act of grace and redeemed us. Jesus came into the world to bring healing and restoration. Surely those who encountered Jesus in the flesh know this deep truth. This truth is for us too. We are saved and made free through the living, loving, dying and rising again of Jesus.

As Jesus lives and works in us we grow in our abilities to be found and to live for that “so much more” that God had intended for us. On our lesser days we try to act as if these things depend on us and our own efforts. But we will never be justified by our own efforts and strivings. This legalistic approach to sanctification and redemption leads to despair and pain and death. We are saved through what Jesus did and does and is doing and is yet to do. Jesus is alive and so, too, are we.

Thanks be to God.

God, give us grace and peace to know you and to live into your gospel. Help us be agents of grace and peace to others and help them live into the gospel. You are good and gracious—help us grow into those traits, too. Amen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

e-vos on vacation

Dearest e-votees-

e-vos will be off-line for the next several weeks as I will be on vacation.

I meant to pre-load the cue but time got away from me.

Thanks for your faithful following of these devotional thoughts. They will return.



Monday, September 27, 2010

e-vo for week of September 29

Dearest e-votees-

This Wednesday, September 29, is the day set aside to commemorate Michael and All Angels.

I thought we might spend some time around the appointed gospel text which is Luke 10:17-20. In order to give it proper context I have included [Luke 10:1-16] as well.

May we all be comforted and blessed by the fact that our names are written in heaven.



[1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house!' 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 "Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. 13 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. 16 "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."]

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 18 He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Luke 10:[1-16] 17-20, NRSV

C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters that there are two mistakes that we can make in regards to demons. One is to pay too little attention to them and the other is to pay too much. They are equally delighted, he continues, with either error. May we get the balance right during this devotional reading and during our day serving out in the world today.

Jesus sends out seventy in pairs to serve as advance teams to prepare for his arrival and ministry. He assures them that they will be safe even though he is sending his sheep out among the wolves. They are to be agents of blessing and peace. The bring healing and herald the coming of the kingdom of God.

We are sent out into the world as well. We are called to prepare for his arrival when Jesus comes to the world in the second coming. We are also sent to be agents of blessing—blessing others as we ourselves have been blessed. We are sent to be messengers and heralds of peace with God. We are sent to be workers towards peace among people.

We engage those in the world sharing fellowship and food and space. We proclaim peace and work towards healing.

If we are rejected or scorned we can take comfort that our Lord was surely no less rejected and no less scorned.

We may find that we are able to tread on snakes and scorpions and other venomous spiritual manifestations. We may find we hold sway over the evil one. That may be but that isn’t the cause for our rejoicing. The demons have been defeated. They are in their last desperate moments. They are like cornered animals lashing out. The appointed epistle text for this day says this:

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. 12 Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!"

Revelation 12:7-12, NRSV

We may run into that woe to be had on the earth and the sea. It might be that we are overwhelmed in our mortal frames by the great wrath of the devil whose sands are quickly running through the hourglass.

The point is not how strong we are or how strong the demons are. The point is not how victorious we are in squaring off against the demons. The point isn’t even if we win or lose, live or die.

Jesus came and was victorious. Jesus won all by losing all on the cross. Jesus came to life after death that we might have life in the face of death. Paul says it this way in Romans 14:8-9:

If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Because of what Jesus has done our names are written in heaven. For that we rejoice. We know whose we are and where we are going. For that we rejoice. We don’t need to fear nor fixate on the demons. For that we rejoice. Jesus is Lord and we are His. For that we rejoice.

God, give us eyes and hearts and faiths to dwell in the spiritual realms. Help us cling to you and your saving work. Send us as agents of peace and healing and proclamation into a world that is war-torn and wounded and needed a saving word. Amen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

e-vo for week of September 22

Dearest e-votees-

There are two Lazaruses (Lazari?!?) in the New Testament.

There is the brother of Mary and Martha who was raised from the dead (all of the references to him can be found in John 11 and 12).

Then there is this other less fortunate Lazarus (all of the references to him can be found in our appointed gospel lesson for this Sunday from Luke 16). He was hungry and poor and covered in sores. This Lazarus ends up being comforted and protected by the patriarch Abraham.

Where do we find ourselves in this story that Jesus tells his disciples and tells to us this day?



19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25 But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27 He said, "Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29 Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30 He said, "No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

Luke 16:19-31, NRSV

There is something deeply comforting about this story told by Jesus. It is not long after Jesus’ statement: “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Lazarus has been cut off from food and comfort during his earthly sojourn. He is now in the presence of Abraham. Lazarus is receiving comfort that eluded him at the gate of the rich man’s house. It warms hearts to see one who has struggled and been deprived receiving good things. Mr. Martini and his family getting their new house in It’s a Wonderful Life is a cinematic joy. Jimmy Stewart, in the same movie, surrounded by family and friends, blessed with a free-will offering to cover a shortfall at the savings and loan, singing Auld Lang Syne is an image of Lazarus in Abraham’s kolpos (bosom, chest, lap, etc.—intimately near). There is something good and stirring about those who are lost or excluded or cutoff being found and included and folded into the intimate places of God. So much of Jesus’ life and ministry seemed to be about reaching out to the Lazari and taking them into intimate and comforting relationships with him.

There is something deeply disturbing about this story told by Jesus. Truth be told most of us are much closer to the rich man end of the wealth and poverty continuum. We may not be clad in purple nor have beggars living at the ends of our driveways but most of us have more than enough (certainly food and clothing which this Sunday’s epistle lesson says is sufficient for contentment—see 1 Timothy 6:6-8). We are more than content to have others serve us or labor in unjust situations to facilitate our lives of relative comfort. We have received many good things and not done all we can to alleviate the evil things that weigh upon others. This story told to Jesus’ disciples—including us—ought to alarm us and inform our lives.

Perhaps most disturbing is Abraham seemingly writing off the hopes of the five brothers of the rich man. The rich man pleads for Lazarus to be sent to offer warning to them so that they avoid his fate. How sad that the rich man is still trying to benefit at the expense of Lazarus. First he wants Lazarus to fetch him a drink. When Abraham says that can’t happen the rich man wants to discharge Lazarus as an errand boy messenger to his brothers. Abraham nixes that too and says that the brothers have Moses and the prophets (the writings of the Old Testament). Abraham says that if they won’t abide by Moses and the prophets even Lazarus rising from the dead won’t save them.

We too have Moses and the prophets. We have even seen a Lazarus rise from the dead. We have record of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We are at a great vantage point to see the things that the rich man wanted his brothers to see. We are without excuse. We do well to mind the words of Jesus and Abraham.

There are Lazari in our world—will we provide balm for their sores and food for their hunger? We might even be called upon to tear up our purple clothes and fine linens to make bandages. We have received so many good things—in great excess of merely food and clothing—will we use those blessings and resources to bless others and redress the evil things in the lives of those less fortunate?

Martin Luther is reported in Table Talk 5677 to have said:

“Nobody can understand Vergil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has first been a shepherd or a farmer for five years.

“Nobody understands Cicero in his letters unless he has been engaged in public affairs of some consequence for twenty years.

“Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years. Therefore there is something wonderful, first, about John the Baptist; second, about Christ; third, about the apostles. ‘Lay not your hand on this divine Aeneid, but bow before it, adore its every trace.’

“We are beggars. That is true.”

These were the last thoughts of Dr. Martin Luther on the day before he died.

God help us to affirm our connection with beggars. Help us linger with the truths of Jesus and Moses and the prophets. Help us trust in your mercy. Help us to have hearts and resources to bandage and feed the Lazari that we encounter—all to Your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

e-vo for week of September 15

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray that this finds you well. This week’s gospel text is the unusual story of the dishonest or the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-13). The manager who is being let go makes very questionable deals to ensure his future security—and Jesus lifts this up as some sort of example of what we are to do. Certainly your preacher this weekend will make this abundantly clear and edifying this weekend.

For our time I thought we would spend some time with the epistle reading from 1 Timothy.



1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-7, NRSV

We live in a time and a culture where we view our leaders (“kings and all who are in high positions”) with a skeptical eye. We wonder if they have the best interest of “we the people” or if they are—truth be told—more like the dishonest/shrewd manager. These musings don’t come without some provocation and some justification. But I think we too quickly skip over the first verse of our appointed epistle lesson.

We are called to be people of prayer. We are called to lift up supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for everyone. Those who are in Washington, D.C. or the synod office or City Hall or who lead the neighborhood association or work pulpits during worship or who sit on the school board or the behind the big desk in the corner office at work are all certainly part of “everyone”. If we look at the balance in our prayer lives what do we see? How often do we pray for those in leadership? Particularly how often do we faithfully lift up those in prayer those who have perhaps done wrong by us or by others? Can we pray fervently for those who seem to be akin to the dishonest/shrewd manager? Will we?

There is a hope that we might lead quiet and peaceable lives. There is hope that godliness and dignity might win the day. If this is to happen for us it starts with our hearts and our attitudes. We are saved through Jesus’ mediation—through the cross. As we bear our crosses we can be transformed into ones where dignity and godliness are being cultivated. Peace and quiet can come more and more to bear on our days in a world that is often anything but dignified or godly or peaceful or quiet.

To be sure there are times when we are called to engage the broken and misguided powers. Jesus drove the moneychangers out. Jesus called out the hypocrisy of some and engaged others to the point of causing scandal. As we grow up into Jesus we might find ourselves in these places too. We are called to be so much more than soft-spoken dupes who let the world trample us. There is still a place for advocacy and prophecy and rebuke. But those things come much better from hearts that are quiet and peaceful and godly and dignified.

God, shape our hearts and our prayers to be in forms that are pleasing to you. Help us live more fully into you. Help us engage the world well as we pray for and love all that we encounter. Stir us to be more like you—sacrificially loving and bringing healing and salvation into the world. Amen.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

e-vo for week of September 8

Dearest e-votees-

There is a Lutheran duo that is called Lost and Found ( I have experienced them live in concert many times (small concerts to national youth gatherings). I even have a slinky that is signed by them (you have to know the song Lions to understand that).

The name of this group shares something with our appointed gospel lesson for this Sunday—they both come from Luke 15.

During their stage chatter at concerts Lost and Found talk about Luke 15 being the lost chapter of Luke—lost sheep, lost coin and lost son. This week’s gospel text covers the first two of those.

May all of us rejoice that we have been found and be open to God working through us to help undo the lostness in our own lives and in the world.



1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 So he told them this parable: 4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Luke 15:1-10, NRSV

Another artist I saw in concert lately (and expect will be around for a while) is Britt Nicole. She was just at Fishfest in Vancouver. Here is a link to an interesting video for her song The Lost Get Found. The trailing words of the song are:

So when you get the chance
Are you gonna take it?
There's a really big world at your fingertips
And you know you have the chance to change it

The reality is that we are a blend of saint and sinner. We are a blend of old Adam/Eve and new Adam/Eve. We are a blend of lost and found. We are a blend of the now and the not yet. We are who we are right now and we are who God is shaping us to be.

Sometimes we can get stuck worrying about the percentages. How much saint am I and how much sinner? I have always been intrigued by the ambigram by Mark Palmer that reads saint one way and sinner the other. You can see it on a shirt at Old Lutheran. I even know one pastor who has this pattern permanently tattooed on both of his hands to remind him. It is a UV tattoo, though, so it only shows up in black light. Not every good church going person is ready for a pastor with prominent tattoos. The point is that we are hopelessly intermingled saint and sinner. We will never know the percentages and we will never extract the sinner completely out of us. Fixating on that immobilizes us and betrays a lack of trust in God’s grace.

The good news is that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them—even when it aggravates the Pharisees and the scribes. The good news is that Jesus welcomes us and eats with us. We are invited to the family table at communion. We are welcome not because our sinner/saint ratio is in check but because God loves us. God rejoices when any of us repent. We are that coin and that sheep and certainly that wandering son. But God welcomes us anyway. God throws a party. God runs down the driveway to meet us. God fetches the robe and the ring and the fatted calf. God saves us. God loves us.

We are now free from stressing over the ratio of devil to angel in our life. We are released to reach out to others (as in the Britt Nicole video). We don’t need to take a road trip. There is a whole world at our fingertips. And we have the chance to change it as God works through us. Will we dare to take the chances that come our way as we are stirred by the Holy Spirit?

God, help us to rejoice with You that we are found. Help us to embrace the lostness in ourselves and in the world around us. Nothing has strayed beyond the reach of Your redemptive and impassioned love. Help us be agents of Your redemption and Your passion in this world—all to Your glory.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

e-vo for week of September 1

Dearest e-votees-

Q: What does it cost to be a true disciple of Jesus?




25 Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, 26 "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Luke 14:25-33, NRSV

When I used to teach high school there were times that students would try to test the limits. They would push against boundaries and expectations to get a sense of what might happen if they kept moving in that direction. That was fine. That is part of the larval stage we call human adolescence. Some pushing was more playful some was a little more nasty in nature. My standard response that was sometimes more playful and sometimes not so much was “Don’t start something that you are not prepared to finish!”

What we start shapes where we are going. Sometimes we start things that can’t be unstarted. The world watches us to see what we might start and what we might finish. Our world thrives on ridiculing those who can’t finish well what they started. We take a little too much joy at eager but musically challenged contenders on American Idol. We spend a little too much time luxuriating in the flameouts and self-destructions of celebrities. We savor a little too much the scandals that ensnare prim and self-righteous preachers and politicians.

Jesus lays it out pretty plainly here. If we want to be Jesus’ disciples we need to give up everything. Our family relationships and the shape of our lives are dramatically impacted by the shadow of the cross on our lives. What we own and what we do with what we own are profoundly reallocated when the shadow of the cross falls over our portfolios. Our very lives are extracted from our control as the call of the cross comes to bear.

What does it cost to be a disciple of Jesus?


The real question is: “Are we mindful of who is calling us and what gives him the right to stake such a claim on us?”

Jesus knew what he was starting and how it would finish (at least in his mortal frame)—in the shape of the cross. Jesus was separated from his Father as he dangled dying on the cross. Jesus embraced the spectacle and the shame of the cross. He endured the ridiculing and the mocking of the Romans and religious leaders. Jesus had everything and spent it all to bring the message of the cross and the hope of the empty tomb to us.

Jesus started something in us in baptism. Jesus doesn’t start something that he is not prepared to finish. The grace and forgiveness found in the font stake a claim on our relationships. They stake a claim on our vocations and our avocations. They stake a claim on our stewardship. They stake a claim on the entirety of our persons.

We were bought with price. It cost Jesus everything.

God, teach us to give all of ourselves to you. You have good and gracious plans. Help us to grow into those plans—all to your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

e-vo for week of August 25

Dearest e-votees-

Profuse apologies for this coming out so late. There will be yet another e-vo (for this coming week’s texts) coming out later this week.

Have a blessed week. Practice philadelphia and philoxenias.



1 Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. 4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 6 So we say with confidence, "The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, NRSV

Our appointed text for last Sunday from Hebrews begins with two powerful exhortations:

The first says practice “philadelphia” which literally is translated as “love of brother”. We are encouraged to love those in the family. We are encouraged to love those that we know. Sometimes that can be a challenge as we know their wrinkles and their foibles all too well. It is a choice we make. Love seems to be much more of a verb and much less of a feeling in this context. We are exhorted to love those around us. And we know that when we are to love we are to love others as we ourselves want to be loved. May God give us eyes and ears and hearts for opportunities to love those around us well.

The second says to remember to practice “philoxenias” which literally is translated as “love of stranger”. We are encouraged to love those that aren’t in the family yet and who may never get into the family. We are encouraged to love those that we don’t know. Sometimes this can be a challenge as we don’t know if they are friendly or not. We don’t know if they intend us harm or not. We don’t know how best to love them. It is easy to shrink away from the call to love the stranger. Yet, it is a choice we make. Love is certainly much more of a verb than a feeling in this case. We are exhorted to love those who cross our paths. And we know that we are to love deeply and sacrificially. In Matthew 25 Jesus says that in caring for “the least of these” we care for Jesus. Our Hebrews text above talks about entertaining angels unaware of the heavenly exchange. May God give us eyes and ears and hearts for opportunities to love the strangers who cross our paths well.

Our appointed text ends with another powerful exhortation. We are invited to do good and to share with others.

We have all sorts of opportunities to do bad. We take them all too often which is why we are invited and encouraged to return to our baptisms daily in Luther’s small catechism. God’s mercies are new every morning and they help us restore our hearts that we might do good.

We have all sorts of opportunities to hoard. We take them all too often which is why it is good to remember where everything we have comes from and ultimately whose it is. God’s provisions are gracious and abundant. There is nothing we have—not one thin dime, not one breath of air, not one loving relationship, not one stitch of clothing, absolutely nothing—in our possession that did not come from the hand of a gracious and benevolent God. Since God has blessed us so richly we are free to bless others.

God shape us into lovers of people—familiar and strangers. Help us tend to that task well as we might well be tending to angels or our Lord Jesus himself. Help us seize opportunities to do good. Help us share with others. May we do all these things to your glory. And may we be blessed as others and You do them to us as well. Amen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

e-vo for week of August 18

Dearest e-votees-

How well do you function with rules and expectations that come from without? Are they an important part of decency and good order? Are they constraining and off-putting? Will you follow them grudgingly? Will you look for loopholes and chances to shave corners off of sharp expectations? How do you decide which rules and expectations are binding and which can be loosed?

In this week’s gospel lesson Jesus has quite a brush-up against someone who seems to care more about the rules than the sufferings of ones fashioned in God’s image who are right before him.

Where do you find yourself in this week’s gospel account?



10 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." 15 But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17, NRSV


Imagine that you are part of an association that has certain rules about expected behavior and social interactions. Imagine also that you have the capacity to alleviate suffering from a particular ailment. As you are going about your business someone comes before you who has been suffering for many years from that very thing that you can readily cure. Wanting to spare this unfortunate soul even another moment of suffering you bring about a cure much to the delight of all but one. One of the members of your association approaches you quite angrily waving about a copy of the association’s rules. You are forbidden from bringing about healing on this particular day according to this member’s interpretation of your association’s guidelines. How do you respond?

Jesus answers the leader of the synagogue who told people to come for healing on a non-sabbath day quite pointedly. He responds with “You hypocrites!” (note the plural) Clearly Jesus is addressing the leader before him—who do you suppose the other hypocrites were? Other leaders of this particular synagogue? Others who read scripture too legalistically? Others who were nodding and otherwise giving assent in their hearts to this proclamation? Perhaps it is just as properly addressed to us who make harsh and legalistic decisions based on law and religion rather than mercy and relationship.

At the start of the 14th chapter of Luke there is another similar exchange:

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?" 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" 6 And they could not reply to this. (NRSV)

Jesus pierces through the expectations that he would leave someone unhealed in order to honor the Sabbath. He shows the folly and the hypocrisy to those who would question him through their own actions towards their own children and animals.

Again, I ask you:
Where do you find yourself in this week’s gospel account?

Are you in need of healing? Have you been suffering for many years and need some relief and respite from your trials? Are you in need of a dispensation of grace and healing?

Are you in need of order and decency? Are you threatened by those who don’t do things according to your understandings and your time frames? Are you a leader that others are watching to see what you might do so that they can take their cues? Is something like hypocrisy at work in you which needs to be tamed?

Are you one who can work some measure of healing in the life of another? Are others pressing in trying to constrain and hem you in for whatever reason? Does their hypocrisy tempt you to fade into the background? How will you respond?

God, renew and heal our hypocritical hearts. Help us temper law and order with grace and mercy. Continue to bring healing into our lives and use us to heal others. Speak words of grace and love through us all to your glory. Amen.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

e-vo for week of August 11

Dearest e-votees-

For this week we will use the epistle text appointed for this Sunday. It is the tail end of chapter 11 of Hebrews and the first few verses of chapter 12. It calls us to continue to shrug of sin and run with focus and perseverance after Jesus.



29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. 32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2, NRSV

There are three things that jump out from this passage and from the other scriptures which fill in some color commentary on this cloud of witnesses:

1. The great cloud of witnesses wasn’t always so great
2. The world doesn’t always treat faithful people so well
3. We are called into that great cloud of witnesses and to take up our crosses

If you want to read up on Jephthah you can in Judges 11-12. (There is one other passing reference in 1 Samuel 12:11). His lineage wasn’t so great. His mother was a prostitute and he was driven away by the children of his father and his father’s wife because of it. He made a rash promise to sacrifice the first thing that came to come out of his door to greet him upon his return if the Lord would give him victory in battle. Jephthah was victorious and upon coming home his only child, a nameless daughter, came out to greet him. He sacrificed her according to his vow. I tried to redeem that story in a sermon at seminary—it doesn’t redeem very easily.

Rahab wasn’t born of a prostitute—she was a prostitute! She gained some recognition when she helped spies sent by Joshua into Jericho. (see Joshua 2:1-15).

David wasn’t always on his best behavior—adultery and murder to cover up the adultery come to mind. Psalm 51 reveals the heart of one who knows he has sinned.

Despite these foibles and outright tragic flaws these people are included in the great cloud of witnesses.

All of us have foibles and tragic flaws of our own. We choose sin and turn our back on clear callings from God to repent and to do better. Nonetheless, we too are counted among the stars Abraham saw and the sands between his toes. We are among Peter and Paul, James and John, Mary and Martha, David and Rahab, Jephthah and Samson. God’s grace and calling trump our sin and rebelling.

The world doesn’t treat faithful people well all of the time. I’m not talking about the deserved judgment of hypocrites and self-righteous hucksters who pervert the gospel for their own sakes. The fact is that the intensity of the lives of those truly trying to live for Christ is off-putting and the world will snuff it out when it can. Peter and Paul were felled by Nero. Bonhoeffer perished at the end of a rope of the Nazis. Oscar Romero was gunned down while leading a worship service. The powers of this world are deeply unsettled by the kingdom of God coming to bear in this world. Martin Luther King spoke often of faith and vision and perished because of it. Countless others who stories we may never know have given their lives and their blood in similar fashion.

In our culture at this time we may not stare down the barrel of gun or face torture but there surely are many who suffer for their faith in these ways in our world. How many of us would refuse to accept release from torture or chains in order to obtain a better resurrection—whatever that means? We, too, are strongly influenced to put aside the deep and challenging calls of the faith and play by this world’s rules. When we resist we may find ourselves shunned and ostracized. When we live into our calling into the great cloud of witnesses we may find ourselves more and more to be sojourners in this world. Our final place is so much different and so much better than anything this world has to offer.

Jesus calls us to pick up our crosses and follow after him. Jesus disregarded the shame of the cross and endured it. Through that Jesus perfected our faith. Through his suffering he brought about glory. We are invited to follow in the ways he walked and lived. When we do we will see others who seem ill-suited and unworthy of that calling. They will see some of the same lackluster traits in us as well. We will find ourselves at odds with the world as we grow up into our faith in Jesus. We may be called upon to lay down our lives for Jesus physically not just metaphorically. There is one thing that is truly needful—keeping our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

God, shape us into people who reflect You. Thank You for calling us into the great cloud of witnesses. Give us grace and mercy to see ourselves and others as you see us—beloved and redeemed children of You. Strengthen and bless those who suffer as prisoners of conscience and religious persecution. Take our lives and use them as You see fit—all to Your glory. Amen.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

e-vo for week of August 4

Dearest e-votees-

This week our epistle text is Hebrews which reminds of the faith of Abraham. He and Sarah were promised a huge hosts of descendants. Like the number of the stars of the heavens and the sands by the seashore. Abraham and Sarah travelled as sojourners in this world and the saw the beginnings of the fulfillment of the great and deep promises made to them. We are not so different than they. God makes huge promises to us. We are called to sojourn in this world and we get to see the very beginnings of the promises God makes to us coming to fruition.



1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, NRSV

There are lots of things in this world that can drive us to despair. There are lots of things that could suggest to us that God has forgotten us or the promises made to us. Perhaps what we could do at some of those times when our hope and trust is needing a boost is go to the beach and feel the promises of God between our toes. Or maybe we should find a nice place to lay down far from the city lights and behold the promises of God with our eyes.

God called Abraham (nee Abram) and Sarah (nee Sarai) to trust in some crazy promises. They followed boldly and very humanly after this divine call on their lives. They slipped and faltered on occasion but never beyond the grasp of God’s grace.

God calls us to trust in some crazy promises. We are invited to follow boldly. Some days our more faltering sides win the day. We sell out our loved ones (as did Abraham) and we laugh at God’s promises (as did Sarah). We try to bring God’s promises into being on our own time schedules (as both Abraham and Sarah did). We evidence our lack of trust and hope. But God’s grace trumps our unbelief.

I have always been partial to the song Sometimes by Step (by Rich Mullins and Beaker). The refrain is sometimes sung by itself and called Step by Step. I particularly like it for the second verse which is below:

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

If you are unfamiliar with the song you can hear it and watch a slideshow that was set to it at:

We are some of the sand and some of the stars that were promised to Abraham. We are spiritual descendants of the faith of Abraham and Sarah. We are strangers in this land. We will falter on the path that at times can be so steep but we never transgress beyond God’s gracious grasp. That is good news. Keep that in mind next time the sand is in your toes or the stars are in your eyes.

God shape us into people that glorify you. Thank you for Abraham and Sarah. Help us grow in faith as they did. Help us live into your promises as they did. Amen.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

e-vo for week of July 28

Dearest e-votees-

As mentioned, this devotion is coming out a little late this week due to our Middle School mission trip to Seattle. If you are so inclined you can look at photos from this faith adventure at:

I appreciate your patience. Have a blessed weekend and may your time of worship be blessed as well.



13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Luke 12:13-21, NRSV

What is the issue that you would want to appeal to Jesus? In our gospel text for this weekend we have the appeal for Jesus to act as arbitrator in a family dispute. Jesus rebuffs the request. What is something going on in your life that you would want God to enter and settle in your favor? Are there issues at your workplace or in your home? Are you involved in a dispute over property or money? Are you pulling more than your fair share while your sibling seems to skate by sitting at the feet of Jesus? Are you the one who faithfully stayed behind working the family farm while your sibling was sowing wild oats? Where has injustice been inflicted upon you that needs redress from the Lord?

The hard truth of this gospel text and of life in general is that God doesn’t devote much time or energy to entering into our disputes and settling them. When we seek justice we often find that we have been perpetrators of injustice or at least benefactors of grace well beyond our merit. God is busy reaching out to those who have little to none. Widows, orphans and aliens seem to take priority over those who have but are angling for more. Tax collectors and sinners and lepers and prostitutes seem to generate more interest than our pensions and our family squabbles over heirlooms and our ways of dictating how church ought to be. Jesus responds that life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions. Apparently Jesus doesn’t pay much heed to Madison Avenue and those who generate advertising campaigns.

Our culture tells us to work hard, save as we can and then to retire comfortably to relax, eat, drink and be merry. Madison Avenue would even invite us to eat, drink and be merry right now for tomorrow we might die (perhaps they have been reading Isaiah 22:13b). We are taught and encouraged and invited to look out for our own interests and comfort. We are called to store up treasures for ourselves.

Jesus offers a pointed parable about what might happen when we look out for ourselves but are not rich towards God. Rich towards God is a matter of not neglecting stewardship of our time, treasure and talent to the church and to the world. Rich towards God is a matter of feeding, clothing, visiting and caring for the needy (see Matthew 25:40). Rich towards God is a matter of seeing that other have enough to eat and drink. Rich towards God is spreading merriment to those on the fringes who might not have so many reasons to rejoice.

The sad and condemning truth of our world is that there are many resources to tend to the needs of the world but we covet and gather and steal them from one another. There isn’t so much an issue of amount of resources but rather resource allocation. God calls us to work hard and share the blessings with others. God calls us to sometimes take the unjust result and even multiply it (see Matthew 5:38-48) that we might bless our enemies. God calls us to a hard and different place. Jesus calls us to take up our cross.

God isn’t against having a good time or having food to eat and drink to drink. Jesus had the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard and of one who mingled with sinners and outcasts. God just wants us to include others especially those others wouldn’t. If you really want to catch a glimpse of what that might look at you might enjoy Tony Campolo's birthday party story.

God stir us to be people who throw birthday party’s for Agneses. Help us be less interested in getting our fair share and more interested in advocating for the poor and the neglected and the forgotten. Help us eat, drink and be merry with you and all of your beloved creation. Make us more like you. Amen.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

e-vo for week of July 21

Dearest e-votees-

My apologies that this is getting out to you so late in the week. I lost track of time with all the fun we were having with our VBS (SonRock Kids Camp). Next week might be a little tardy too. We are leaving this morning for a middle school mission trip to Seattle and won’t be back to town until next Wednesday. Any prayers you could lift up towards that endeavor would be greatly appreciated. I appreciate your patience and pray that these weekly insertions are a blessing to you.



1 [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial." 5 And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 And he answers from within, "Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:1-13, NRSV

This account of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer comes on the heels of the visit to Mary and Martha. It is interesting to note that the other account of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is different than this one. It is also interesting to note that neither line up with what many use on Sunday morning or in their personal devotions. I’m not so sure Jesus was that interested in scripted prayers. It seems as though he was much more concerned about the right placement of the heart rather than the right words with the right inflections. Scripted or rote prayers aren’t the issue—praying faithfully to a God who wants our prayers is what matters most. If scripted prayers help with that right placement of heart then thanks be to God.

I am fond of the stories of persistent petitioners. This story and the one of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) both have the same sense. If you pester people enough they will do what is right even if they don’t care about you. The judge yields even though he neither fears God nor cares about people. The friend above yields not because of the friendship but because of the persistence. This has some powerful implications for social advocacy and calling people in power to do what’s right.

This form is one that is fairly common in scripture. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If we, though we are sinful, can be moved by persistence and petition to do what is right how much more will God respond when we faithfully bring persistent petitions. If we know how to give our child good gifts, though we are evil, how much more will God lavish the Holy Spirit upon those who ask for that gift?

I had a reluctant seminary professor who didn’t always return papers in a timely fashion. Eventually I decided to adopt the role of the persistent widow. I said to this professor “You know that there is Biblical precedent for nagging to get what you want” This professor said “Yes.” I said “You know that you really should be returning my papers.” This professor again said “Yes.” “So then,” I said, “you won’t mind if I nag at you until your return my papers.” “No.” said this professor. The nagging ensued. And the rate of paper return increased.

E-mails such as:

You neither fear God nor care about men but because I nag you, you will return my papers.

~The Persistent e-widow

proved effective.

If in such a small matter I was able to make some progress due to persistence and petitioning how much more should I be a person of prayer crying out to God for the things that the world needs.

Unfortunately, I didn’t generalize this principle very well. I was content to have what I needed and really didn’t worry so much about the rest of the class (who didn’t get their papers back so regularly). It is way too easy to fight for what directly affects us and leave the world in the lurch. Caring only for our own needs and neglecting the similar needs of others runs counter to the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer. Daily bread for us alone is insufficient.

Dear God, shape us into faithful and persistent prayer warriors. Help us never stop asking until justice and basic needs are available for all. Teach us to bless our children well and to drink in the blessings you have for us, your children. Amen.