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.