Tuesday, January 26, 2010

e-vo for week of January 26

Dearest e-votees,

This week our gospel lesson picks up right where our lesson last week left off with one verse shared in common. The people aren’t too pleased with what Jesus has to say. Rather than merely omit the "Nice sermon, rabbi!" on the way out the door of the synagogue the people have much more sinister intent. The mood of the text takes a decidedly negative turn as Jesus' hearers try to toss him off a cliff.



Then [Jesus] began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.' " And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Luke 4:21-30, NRSV

When I was of a younger demographic (early 70s—year not age) I remember watching Batman reruns with Adam West and Burt Ward. The episodes came in pairs. The first ½ hour would end with Batman and Robin in some deadly yet slow moving trap. They would be tied to the cog of a clock or in a cage slowly sinking underwater. Their utility belts would always be in plain sight yet out of reach—taunting them. The episode would end with an invitation to tune in again—"Same bat time—same bat channel."—so that we could see how the dynamic duo would cheat death this time. This kind of transition between the two shows is called a cliffhanger as there is often someone left dangling off the edge of a cliff until the heroic border collie or faithful dolphin or whatever other amazing animal comes to save the day.

Our text doesn't seem to understand the artistic and cinematic genius of the two episode cliffhanger. The text shifts from everyone being amazed at Jesus' teaching in the synagogue (last week's reading) with people rejecting Jesus and threatening to dangle him off a cliff—and then let go) (this week's reading). Rather than build up some tension with a slow-moving threat the crowd lunges at Jesus and take him to the edge of the cliff. But then, with seemingly no resistance whatsoever, Jesus walks through the crowd and goes on his way. He didn't even need a utility belt or a thundering affirmation from heavenly voices or a legion of angels. This really doesn't make for good cinema or TV.

But that's really the point. Jesus doesn't come to fill our expectations—as person, as dramatic figure or as Messiah. Jesus comes to do what is needed and what God requires. And apparently that ministry includes reaching out to widows and lepers from foreign lands. When Jesus reveals God's lavish grace and generosity to seeming enemies it can be more than seems able to be borne.

Think of someone who has hurt you deeply. Think of someone who has perpetrated some ghastly crime. God has love and grace for that person. God would be reconciled and at peace with such a person. God would desire that even if it caused you discomfort. The discomfort that you experience is nothing compared to the lash and thorns and nails that Jesus endured. That is the unsettling grace and beauty of Jesus' passion.

God, give us love for those who are different and threatening to us. Help us spend less time manufacturing spiritual drama and more time steeping ourselves in the greatest story ever told—Jesus' life and death; ministry and passion. Help us bear that story to whoever needs it regardless of their reaction or the reaction of those around us.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

e-vo for week of January 20

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed psalm for this coming Sunday is Psalm 19. We will use some of this psalm as the focus of our devotion this week.

Have a blessed day.




The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.

The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever;

the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than fine gold,

sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

Psalm 19:7-10 (from Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

People of this world chase after riches—property, possessions and power.

People of this world hunger after rich foods—banquets, feasts and sumptuous desserts.

But God would have us hunger and chase after other things. We are called to seek out God’s instructions and God’s commands and submit ourselves to God’s standards. We are called to be not of this world.

When we seek after instruction from God our souls are revived. There is much in this world that will draw the life out of us. We can be slow to learn and thick in the head. God’s testimony brings wisdom to bear in our lives. There are promises in scripture that if we seek after God we will find God (see Jeremiah 29:11-13). Better news yet is that God seeks after us and God finds us. When God finds us wisdom and new life abound.

When we seek to abide by God’s commands justice comes to pass. When we truly submit our desires to the scrutiny and guidance of God’s laws we find joy. God’s commands are clear and they illumine our path. We need not stumble around in ignorance and misplaced good intentions. God has and will continue to show us the way.

When we maintain proper respect for the power and majesty of God and God’s judgments truth and righteousness abound. When we show proper deference to God a cleansing and purifying fire burns through the chaff in our lives. The good work began in us continues on until forever—not because we are so reverent but because God is faithful even unto sometimes faithless ones such as us.

God, teach us to chase after you more than the riches and rich delicacies of this world. Have your way in us and through us all to your glory. Amen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

e-vo for week of January 13

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed gospel text this week is Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana as told in John 2:1-11. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider that story in light of our appointed epistle lesson in 1 Corinthians.



Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11, NRSV

All of us are granted gifts by the Holy Spirit. In baptism we are equipped to contribute as members of the body of Christ. Paul begins with the text above and continues through chapter 12 making the case that we ought to function as the body of Christ—equipped by the Holy Spirit with Christ as our head.

If we were given the option to pick out our spiritual gifts which would you choose? Some would be drawn in the flamboyant racks in the display room to supernatural and readily apparent gifts—working healings, miraculous transformations, raising the dead, etc. Some would be drawn to the perhaps more muted shelves containing gifts of prayer, wisdom and discernment, etc. Where do you fall on that spectrum? What might you select as your gift(s) were you given the opportunity?

The truth is you are gifted and you weren’t given the opportunity to pick and choose. God has equipped you as the Holy Spirit saw fit. Your job isn’t to covet or denigrate or even worry about the gifts of others. They are gifted too. Just as the Holy Spirit saw fit.

Jesus obviously had the spiritual gift of working miracles. In the case of the wedding at Cana he was called out by his mother. After a rather snippy response to his mom he goes about the business of using one of the gifts given to him by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t draw particular attention to it nor hide it. He did what he was called to do and the responses come as they may.

We are gifted. There are times coming when we will get called out to use those gifts. We might get a little snippy. After some redirecting prayers and proper attitude adjustments we can and should serve. We shouldn’t draw particular attention to our gifts nor should we hide them. We ought to do what we are called upon to do and let the responses come as they may.

God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. Thank you for the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are at work in us and through us. Help us not squander your gifts but let our lights so shine that others might see our good works and glorify you—our Father in heaven. Amen.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

e-vo for week of January 6

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is the first Sunday after the Epiphany (which was Wednesday, January 6). It is the Sunday when we commemorate the baptism of Jesus.

May we rejoice that we too are baptized and connected to Jesus’ life, ministry, death and glorious resurrection.



As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, NRSV

The people were looking for a savior—a Messiah. They knew that they could not save themselves. They looked about and were attracted to the intensely passionate one who dressed in unusual clothes, consumed an unusual diet and cried out powerfully in the desert. They found one who spoke strong words with great enthusiasm (literally “in-God-ness”). The people found what seemed the right one to deliver them from their own failings and the Roman occupation into a new era.

John replied that he was not the one. There was another one coming who was even more powerful. One who would bear even more enthusiasm in its literal sense. Then comes Jesus. One who would dress rather usually. He would eat and drink usual foods to the point that some called him a glutton and a drunkard. In many ways he was much less dramatic than John. Yet John recognized him even in the womb.

And God recognized Jesus too. In words that would be heard again in the Transfiguration (the other bookend of the Sundays of Epiphany) God bestows honor and commendation to Jesus in the hearing of others. This is a powerful revelation of who Jesus is and will be. Epiphany is about Jesus being revealed.

Jesus gets baptized. He enters into the community just as we did. He joins us as we are joined to him. May we carry that good news with joy and tell others about this Son that God loves and is well pleased.

God continue to reveal Yourself to us in Jesus. Amen.

Friday, January 1, 2010

corrected e-vo for week of December 30

Dearest e-votees-

Happy New Year. I hope and pray that you and yours have a blessed and joyous 2010.

This coming WEDNESDAY is JANUARY 6 (aka Epiphany). It is the first day after the 12 days of Christmas have elapsed. Since most of us won’t be doing liturgical worship based around the appointed readings of the Revised Common Lectionary on the actual day of Epiphany I thought we could linger in the appointed gospel lesson for that day during this week’s e-vo.



In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' "Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Matthew 2:1-12, NRSV

This section of scripture (and what immediately follows) is the only mention in the New Testament of the “3 Wise Men”. (3 seems to have come from the fact that 3 gifts were brought). There is a hint of such a visit found in Isaiah 60:1-6 (the appointed Old Testament reading for the day of Epiphany).

It is hard to enter into this story. We take travelling great distances for granted with modern transit options. We look to the internet or the paper or the news for the latest breaking stories—we don’t scour the evening sky. We don’t pay homage to others (remember the dust-up when President Obama may have bowed to a foreign dignitary?). We certainly don’t lavish extravagant gifts on newborn children. And if we did, it is quite likely we might return to see what kind of return we might get on our investment. This story is very hard to import with our modern sensibilities. The truth is this is a different kind of story involving a different kind of people from a different kind of time.

What is not hard to understand is Herod’s jealousy. Herod was a person of title and power. Here comes a new ruler foretold in the heavens and beckoning wise men from afar. Herod is threatened. The travelers ask around to find Jesus. They say that they want to pay homage. Herod sees a chance to rub out a threat and offers to pay homage too. Unfortunately his “homage” involves the business end of a sword—see Matthew 2:16.

All of us have power and title as part of our existence. God continues to come into this world and upset the status quo. Our powers and our titles must give way to this one born in a manger—to this one coming again at the end of all time—to this one who continues to be revealed to the world. What kind of homage will we pay this king—reverent with sacrificial gifts or self-serving with sacrificial intent? Are we more like the wise men or more like Herod?

Jesus, reveal yourself to us and to this world. Help us put aside what we think we deserve that we might receive from you the things we don’t deserve and could never acquire apart from your grace. Help us let our lights so shine in the world that others might our good works and glorify you—our Father in heaven.** Amen.

** - Matthew 5:16—used as a baptismal charge these days.