Wednesday, June 23, 2010

e-vo for week of June 23

Dearest e-votees-

Since I jumped the gun and did last week’s installment on the assigned gospel text for this Sunday we will use the assigned epistle text for this week’s reflection.



1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25, NRSV

If you are like me you open up your Bible and see what verses the lectionary has skipped across. Galatians 5:2-12 deals with circumcision, law, gospel, grace and freedom. Paul suggests a more drastic circumcision for those who are stirring up trouble—perhaps that is why the text ended up on the lectionary cutting room floor.

We live in a remarkable tension. We are freed by Christ’s life, death, ministry and resurrection. The law’s grip on our lives has been loosened. We are saved not by what we do or don’t do but by Christ’s all sufficient work. Grace saves us—not our tending to the requirements of the law. We are free.

We are bound up by the obligation to serve others. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow after him. Jesus washes feet and invites us to do likewise. We cannot add a thing to our salvation. But in loving response to what God has done we are invited into the service of others on behalf of God. We are bound to service.

Martin Luther captures it this way:

+ A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

+ A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.

Freedom of a Christian (1520)

Our self-indulgent world leans hard on encouraging things of the list in verses 19-21. We are told to take what is ours. Shows play to our insecurities and our baser instincts. Freedom looks like bickering contestants. Freedom looks like Girls Gone Wild. Freedom looks like self-serving, small-minded living. Freedom looks like “shooting down the ones who did what we wish we’d dared” (lyric from Stand Up [2:12] by Superchick). Freedom looks like unbridled corporate greed at the expense of the future and the environment. Freedom looks like a world that bites and devours and backstabs one another. Freedom looks like the American dream run amok.

We Christians are truly free. But (to paraphrase Uncle Ben in the Spiderman movie) with great freedom comes great responsibility.

We are called to use our freedom to be shaped into people who reflect verses 22-26. Since we know who are and whose we are we can enter into service more fully. When we take the calling from God that is ours it looks like something else. Freedom looks like not worrying who gets the credit. Freedom looks like lifting up the gifts and abilities of others. Freedom looks like a cross. Freedom looks like a washbasin and towel. Freedom looks like two players carrying a fallen competitor around the bases and ending their season for a higher good (see story and picture). Freedom looks like things that at times fly in the face of prudence as generosity and love and forgiveness and grace win the day. Freedom looks peaceful and kind and gracious and bold and joyful.

God, shape us by your indwelling Holy Spirit to be people who use our freedom well. Help us never forget the high price that was paid to set us free. Help us never stop serving and laboring until all know this freedom. Amen.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

mea culpa

Oops, I used the lectionary readings for next week for this week.

Sorry about any confusion that might have caused.

Blessings on your worship this week.


e-vo for week of June 16

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s gospel text pulls no punches. The call to follow after Jesus is intense. In Baptism we were grafted into that call. In our confirmations (aka “Affirmation of Baptism”) we acknowledged that call on our lives publicly. May we be blessed and given courage so that we not shrink away from the deep and life-giving call of our savior Jesus.



51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:51-62, NRSV

The image of Jesus setting his face resolutely towards Jerusalem has always caught my attention. Jesus knows who he is and what he is here to do. He will not be distracted. This text, partnered with Luke 7:11-17 where Jesus responds immediately to the ministry need of raising the widow of Nain’s son, shapes Jesus’ ministry in the form of a cross. There is an intense heavenly focus with a powerful responsiveness to the earthly needs about him. There is a death that is calling all of us (“Take up your cross and follow me”) and an opportunity to perform life-giving acts to those who cross our paths.

This text strikes me as one very much like 1 Corinthians 13 (aka “the love chapter”) in two ways:

1. This text is a call to each and everyone one of us. It is a personal and binding call to each of us who would lay claim to Jesus as our savior. In that way we can use it as a mirror to examine our own walks. This text does not serve well as a lens with which to scrutinize others. When I do pre-marital counseling and engage 1 Corinthians 13 I tell couples that this text serves much better as a mirror for self-examination rather than a club to pummel the shortcomings of the other. In this same way our Luke text is quite suited to self-examination. We don’t need to decide if others are fit for the kingdom of God or not—that is between God and the other. Jesus’ response to James and John wanting to incinerate those they thought didn’t make the cut should temper our judgment of others as well. There is a powerful call that demands response. The call is to us and the response is ours. God will do what God will do with others—not really our concern.

2. This call is remarkably hard (bordering on impossible). Itinerant and sojourning lifestyle with nowhere to lay one’s head is a hard sell to a world that has specialty stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond that beckon us to luxuriate and have many places to lay our heads. Telling a grieving man to let the dead bury his father seems mighty harsh from the same Jesus who brought the widow of Nain’s son to life and gave him back again. Why wasn’t she called to neglect the burial of her son and follow after Jesus? Calling a prospective follower to leave home without saying goodbye also seems harsh from Jesus. No matter how broken or dysfunctional there really is no place like home. Jesus commands an almost impossible level of response calling one unfit who looks back from whence he or she came. 1 Corinthians 13 sets a high and lofty standard for love. This gospel text does the same for discipleship.

Bottom line, we live in a salad bar mentality world. Take what you like. Take as much as you like. If you don’t like what you got throw it away. You can get a clean plate and start over. This is all for your comfort and enjoyment.

The call of Jesus to the cross and to discipleship looks very different than a salad bar. The cup isn’t one of bottomless beverages but rather a portion of the cup of his suffering. The bread isn’t breadsticks and croutons and soup crackers but his body which is real food and strengthens us to eternal life. We may be called to endure things that look foolish to the world. That’s the point. We’re not of this world.

Lord Jesus, help us to be fit for the kingdom of God. Call us out of this world into your kingdom. Give us the courage to turn our faces resolutely to where you have called us. Help us love and serve others rather than try to cast down fire upon them. Teach us your ways. Amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

e-vo for week of June 9

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday’s appointed Old Testament is the confrontation of David by Nathan after his affair with Bathsheba. Our sins have real and grave consequences on us and on those we love.

May God bless us all as we work out our salvations with fear and trembling knowing that God’s mercies are new every morning and that God will bring to completion the work that was started in us.



26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,1 and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." 5 Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." 7 Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. [11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun."] 13 David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." Nathan said to David, "Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die." 15 Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became very ill.

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10 [11-12] 13-15, NRSV

In the text above you might notice that verses 11 and 12 are bracketed off. This is because they are not included in the assigned reading but I have them there to give the entire account of the confrontation by Nathan.

Psalm 51 is explained as resulting from this confrontation of David. David writes in verse 4 “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight…” while speaking to God. I wonder if Uriah might have a different take on David’s culpability. Bathsheba might have something different to say if we were to give her a voice (she doesn’t even have a name in our assigned text). The baby born of Bathsheba and David lived for seven days (not even old enough to be named and circumcised as that happens on the eighth day) might have had something to say about all this had he the ability to speak. If you read the bracketed verses David’s wives who were to endure public shame as a result of David’s more private indiscretions might too want to weigh in about David’s sinning only against God.

The point is that David’s sin had deep and lasting repercussions on the lives of many. Ours do too. David knew what was right as evidenced by his response to Nathan’s parable of the rich man and the one little ewe lamb. Nathan’s “You are the man!” must have kept ringing in David’s ears.

We too know what is right much of the time. Yet we choose what is comfortable or amusing or fun or expedient or safe. Because of our choices we cause deep and lasting repercussions on ourselves and the lives of those we love. For those of us that have ears to hear we have “You are the one!” ringing out.

God’s mercy is for us and for all. God’s mercies are indeed new every morning. We have some opportunities to make amends. One of the holy grounds that pastors at time stand upon is helping people with step 5 of the 12-step program where people seek to make amends with God, ourselves and others for the wrongs perpetrated. Confession and absolution is a deep and powerful spiritual practice. Luther talked about mutual consolation of the saints as a possible third sacrament (in addition to baptism and communion). What holy ground it is when we are able to confess and when we are able to absolve with one another.

What we can take from the tragic and profound sin of David is that our sins can wound and maim people deeply. We can also take away that God doesn’t give up on people very easily—which assures us and calls us to not give up on others easily either. We should abide in these truths deeply.

God, guide us and lead us that we steer away from sin. Help us to be people of mercy and love and grace when we and those we love cause injury to each other and ourselves. Help us extend your mercy and love and grace to those we don’t love as well. Bring healing and pour out your grace. Amen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

e-vo for week of June 2

Dearest e-votees-

This week we have two raising of the dead stories in our lectionary. The first is when Elijah restores to life the widow of Zarephath’s son in 1 Kings 17:17-24. The second is when Jesus restores to life the widow of Nain’s son in Luke 7:11-17. The appointed psalm (Psalm 30) and the appointed epistle (Galatians 1:11-24) also have themes and threads of death to life.

Perhaps there are places in our life where death needs to yield to the life-giving gospel of Jesus.



17 After this the son of the [widow of Zarephath], the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" 19 But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20 He cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again." 22 The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." 24 So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."

1 Kings 17:17-24, NRSV

11 Soon afterwards [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Luke 7:11-17, NRSV

Where have you tasted of literal death in your life? Do you know the exquisite pain of losing a child as did both of the widows in our assigned texts? Have you buried friends and siblings? Are you a widow or a widower? Have you stepped into the mantle of the patriarch or matriarch of the family after tending to the deaths of your parents? Have you lost the devoted companionship of pets through death? There is no soft-pedaling death. Death is painful and palpable and awaits us all. All of us know about death more than we might like. Death seems to have the final and crushing word. But then we hear of Jesus’ empty tomb. And we hear stories like the ones above (and Lazarus and the 12-year old girl and Eutychus) [see John 11:1-44, Luke 8:40-56 (among others) and Acts 20:8-12]. Granted all of these accounts except for Jesus are not truly resurrections since all died yet again—but they offer hope. And Jesus’ unique resurrection offers a sure and certain hope. Dare we believe the outrageous hope that is offered in the empty tomb of Easter morn?

Where have you tasted metaphorical death in your life? Have you been touched by job loss? Have you been touched by debilitating illness? Has divorce shattered supposed forever unions? Have hopes and dreams been crushed? Have people betrayed or disappointed or neglected in ways that are irretrievably hurtful? Have plans and schemes and best-laid plans been thwarted? Perhaps the words spoken to the Babylonian exiles speak to you too:

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord…

Jeremiah 29:11-14a, NRSV

There is no soft-pedaling death. Death is real and it hurts whether literal or metaphorical. But God knows the intimate pains of death. That is why Jesus was so stirred at the tomb of Lazarus. That is why Jesus cried from the cross. God enters into our pain. God offers hope and healing even in the midst of the deaths we endure. God isn’t done with us or those who have died yet.

Death is real. God’s love is more real. The Easter truth of resurrection is for us and for all.

God, give us courage and faith to live through the deaths we endure. Gather us at last with all the saints who have gone before us into the sure and certain resurrection hope of our Lord Jesus. Amen.