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.