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.