Thursday, December 29, 2011

e-vo for week of December 28

Dearest e-votees-

In the church year there are particular days set aside to commemorate saints and martyrs. The color of the day is red which evokes memories of blood spilled and of faithful testimony empowered by the Holy Spirit.

December 28 is the day of “The Holy Innocents, Martyrs” who are the children who were slaughtered as Herod in a fury tried to kill the newborn king by having all of the children in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old or younger killed.

For this week’s devotion we will linger around this ghastly story leaning hard on the promises of Romans 8:28 that God can work all things for good for those who love him and are called according to God’s purpose.



15 Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. 16 Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; 17 there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.

Jeremiah 31:15-17, NRSV

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

Matthew 2:13-18, NRSV

It is hard to read this account of the destruction of life in the wake of political and social struggles. Clearly these children posed no threat to Herod. The one who would eventually completely upend the political, social, spiritual and many other structures of this world, Jesus, was easily delivered from this brutal and ill-conceived attempt on his life. In his rage and vain imaginations Herod was the cause of the suffering of great many innocents and their families.

It is hard to read this account of the destruction of children and not have our minds drawn back to the Passover. At the end of a long period of political and social struggles there was a leader, Pharaoh, who was not able to yield and let the people go. Because of this circumstance the firstborn males of all of the households of Egypt, and the animals, were slain. The spilled blood of the Passover lamb serving as a sign of deliverance on the doorposts of the Jewish people has been connected with Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross.

Jesus didn’t escape dying at the hands of a broken and corrupt political machinery. He just delayed it for 33 or so years until the time was right. He could have been delivered by legions of angels if he so desired in the garden of Gethsemane but he persisted. In our rage and our vain imaginations we, people then and people now, were the ones who led Jesus to the cross and shouted “Crucify Him!!!”

The world still struggles with realms of power and corruption and politics. As people vie for recognition and power and influence many lives are wounded and destroyed. Corruption and influence peddling cost incredible amounts and are paid by the tragic currency of preventable diseases running rampant, malnourished bodies finally yielding to death and people living in abject poverty. As the vain imaginations of rulers and would be up-and-comers and hyper-consumers go to work the vulnerable and the young and the relatively innocent pay severely.

Jesus comes into this world to break this cycle. Jesus reminds us that how we treat the “least of these” is how we treat him (see Matthew 25:40). Jesus has come to dismantle realms and structures that slaughter or permit the demise of the young and the vulnerable. Jesus came to set us free. Jesus has work for us to do that involved caring for those still ensnared in how we do politics. Will the weeping of Rachel stir us to action?

God, teach us to see in Jesus—this baby of Bethlehem who grew into the deliverer of all who would come—a call to take up our own crosses. Stir us to be moved with Rachel and to let your Holy Spirit stir us to action that pleases you and alleviates suffering and untimely death in this political and broken world. Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

e-vo for week of December 21

Dearest e-votees-

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope and pray that you are able to savor the gift of the manger surrounded by family and friends.

God has come into the world to bring all who are far back into restored relationship with God. This is indeed Good News.



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.

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; 12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

Hebrews 1:1-12, NRSV

God has been speaking to our ancestors, people who have preceded us in the family of faith, for a long time. In many and various ways God has sought to communicate to them and to us—many people, many forms of oration, demonstration and inscription, through demonstrations of power, miraculous interventions and faithful deliverance and provision. In spite of these efforts by God the message was often missed by our ancestors and by us. So God came to us as Jesus. When we look at Jesus we see God. Jesus bears “the exact imprint of God’s very being” and makes himself known to this world that is so often so sinful and so broken.

Jesus comes and makes his place among the shepherds and the sheep. Jesus comes and makes his place among the tax collectors and lepers and sinners and outcasts. Jesus comes and makes his place between the doubter and the denier and the betrayer. Jesus comes and makes a place for us too. And, when we decided Jesus was making things in a way that was offensive to us, we dispatched him. And Jesus made his place between two thieves on Calvary. Jesus made his place in hell—literal and figurative—for our sake. And we made a place for him in a rough hewn tomb in a garden.

Then Jesus rose and took his place again. Jesus rose and said “Not even death can keep me down”. Jesus rose and said “Take your place beside me—nothing, not even death, can separate us”. Jesus makes a place for us. “The exact imprint of God’s very being” is pressing us into that form as well. Jesus sustains all things—including us—by his powerful Word. He is the Word come into the world. He has come for us. He has made a place for us. He has called us to follow after him. This is, truly, “Joy to the World!!!”

God, thank you for all the ways you bless us. Most particularly we give you thanks for Jesus and how you have blessed us and the world through him. Help us be people who join all God’s angels in worship and praise of God made flesh—the Gift of the manger and the Savior of the world. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

e-vo for week of December 14

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray this devotion finds you well as you continue to wait and linger and prepare for Christmas this year as well as when Jesus comes again in glory.

May your time with friends and family, traveling and sharing, exchanging gifts, singing songs, participating in worship all be good and blessed.



1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. 2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. 3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: 4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’ ” Selah

19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. 20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; 21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. 22 The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. 23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. 24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted. 25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. 26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’ 27 I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. 28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm. 29 I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure."

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, NRSV

Do you ever wonder what difference your life makes? Once you have died what will be remembered? What lasting impact will your name carry 10 years after you are gone? 50 years after you are gone? 200 years after you are gone? Who decides how important someone is and how lasting their legacy should be? Does it matter to you if you and your name are remembered or not?

David is still powerfully remembered. He is not as much remembered for what he did as for who God called him to be and who God brought out of his lineage. One of ways we might let people know who we are and how important we are is through our connections with other people. We’ve all met namedroppers. We all know people who are wealthy and famous and paid attention to because of their parents or other well-known ancestors. Paris Hilton is a classic example of someone who received what she had and has been much the center of attention because of it. Promises and gifts and responsibilities are given to family members. Promises made to family members can bring great blessings and great responsibility.

We are joined to Jesus and through him to this lineage of David. We receive great blessings and responsibility solely based on the fact that God has made us God’s own—much like David. We will be remembered by God because our names are written in the book of life. We may not be remembered so very vividly by the world because of our actions and our accomplishments. That’s okay. That is not to say what we do doesn’t matter. We matter to God and we have vocations to tend. We have families to love. We have good news to share. We are part of God’s family and that brings great blessings and great responsibility. It all matters.

God has made a steadfast covenant with David and with us. We can rest (Selah) in that great truth. God’s love and forgiveness and grace and covenant stands firm. Thanks be to God.

Dear God, you always deliver on your promises. They are brought to pass in Jesus who is the yes and amen to all your promises. Help us wait for him again in the manger and as he readies to come in clouds. Help us spread the word of our savior, our brother, our friend and our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

e-vo for week of December 7

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and that your time of preparing and lingering and steeping and waiting in Advent is fruitful.

For our devotional focus today we will look at the appointed lesson for this Sunday from Isaiah.



1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, NRSV

It is this Isaiah passage that Jesus finds in Luke 4:16-21 when he unrolls the scroll, reads the text and says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The HarperCollins study Bible estimates that this text was written between 545 and 539 years before Jesus was on the earth. If we take Jesus to be 30 when he was beginning his public ministry then this prophecy recorded in Isaiah took ~570 years to be fulfilled. What do you think the people in the intervening almost 6 centuries thought as they looked at this passage and as they watched the passage of time?

There is a promise in the second part of the passage that God’s people, with whom God has covenanted, will be known among the nations as blessed. The words that follow in verses 9-11 strongly resonate with Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). Jesus coming into Mary’s life helped bring these promises to bear. She couldn’t help but respond with praise.

But for many there are still issues of being oppressed, brokenhearted, captivity, mourning and sagging spirits. Even the wait of 570 or so years didn’t sweep that all away. The intervening centuries between Isaiah to Jesus and then again to us have proven to be quite harsh to God’s chosen people. Many would be hard-pressed to declare them unequivocally blessed.

God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). But sometimes they take half a millennia or so to come to pass. Sometimes they still haven’t completely come to bear even after a couple millennia. But God’s time is so not like our time. And God’s faithfulness is so not like our distracted allegiances. We wait, as patiently as we can, for the baby to come again to the manger in Bethlehem—with Mary. We wait, as patiently as we can, for Jesus to come at the end of all time and usher in with finality the joy and the healing and the comfort that will have no end. And when the impatience starts to set in we can gather together for encouragement and worship. That’s what we do as an Advent people.

God, give us patience and grace as we wait for your promises come fully to bear on us and on this world. Help us be a source of grace and community for all those who also wait. Give us words and songs of praise and glory to join in singing with Mary’s Magnificat. Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

e-vo for week of November 30

Dearest e-votees-

This time of year can be a hard time to wait and be patient.

For some the time of presents and celebrative music and joyous reunions make us giddy with anticipation. The days can’t pass fast enough until these times are upon us. And sometimes they pass all too quickly and we need to wait until the next occasion with all the joys and the celebrations that come with.

For some the holidays loom in a much more menacing way—hard economic times, insufficient wages, palpable empty places at the table or hard memories from tough holidays gone by. The days can’t pass fast enough until we are through these tough times. And then we will have a reprieve at least until the next occasion with its challenges and all of the expectations that come with.

For most of us we are in some hybrid place between these two extremes. We find ourselves waiting—sometimes joyfully, sometimes dreadfully—through these days of Advent. Our assigned epistle lesson for this coming second Sunday of Advent reminds us that God waits too.



8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,

2 Peter 3:8-15, NRSV

Have you ever had to wait on God? Perhaps you are seeking guidance about an opportunity or a perceived calling. Perhaps you are waiting to hear back on some lab results and the efficacy of your prayers for healing. Perhaps you are waiting for that baby to come. Or for your baby to come back home from deployment. Or for when you can leave this earth and go and be reunited with your baby. But instead of the instant gratification type of response we have been trained to expect in this world there is the need to wait. Perhaps God has a purpose in the waiting. Perhaps the waiting has little to do with God’s plans or God’s timing. Waiting can be a trial.

But Peter redirects us like a parent to a restless child—“Instead of pacing and complaining why don’t you…?” Instead of fixating on how slow or non-responsive we perceive God to be why don’t we do something? Why don’t we bide our time by striving to be at peace, by striving to be without spot or blemish? In order to do this with God we must return again and again to God’s work on the cross which was attached to us in baptism. Through Jesus we are reconciled to God and made at peace. Through Jesus we are made pure and clean. In order to do this with neighbors we must grow, with God’s help, in being peace-loving and forgiving and long-suffering and gracious with others. We must grow, with God’s help, in loving our neighbors as we ourselves would be loved. As we grow in this way the spots and blemishes that mar our community and blur our image of our neighbors fade.

As we wait, sometimes patiently, sometimes not so much so, we can grow in regarding God’s patience with us and our world as salvation—as a healing and life-giving act. This is as Paul writes and as Peter emphasizes and as the church teaches and as we are called to live.

Christ has come. Christ will come again. Thanks be to God.

God, help us wait in faith knowing your patience is bringing salvation more fully into this world. Bring your new heaven and earth in your time to your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

e-vo for week of November 23

Dearest e-votees-

There are appointed texts in our lectionary not just for Sundays of the church year but also for appointed days commemorating saints, Holy Week and some other important days. There is a set of appointed texts for Day of Thanksgiving (U.S.A.) and we'll take a look at the gospel lesson for this week's e-vo.

May you be surrounded by family and friends and full of thankfulness during this extended holiday weekend.



11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Luke 17:11-19, NRSV

Jesus enters the scene. There are people who are cut off from community. They approach him (a very bold and faithful move on their part they were expected to keep their distance and cry out "Unclean! Unclean!" as a warning (see Leviticus 13:45)). They cry out for mercy and Jesus responds. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priest (the gateway back into the community) and on the way they are healed.

Only one returns to give thanks and praise. The one who returns is a Samaritan (who had yet another reason to keep his distance from Jesus). The other nine, presumably not foreigners, are never recorded to have returned.

Move to modern day:

Jesus enters the scene. There are people who are cut off from community--perhaps we are among them. Jesus comes and welcomes those who cry out to him wanting to restore them to community. Jesus folds us into community with God the Father (the vertical work of the cross) and Jesus folds us into community with our human brothers and sisters (the horizontal work of the cross). We would do well to learn lessons from the grateful Samaritan and Jesus’ reaction towards him.

May we be surrounded by family and friends. And if we spot any folks in need of welcome, inclusion, cleansing and restoration may we be like Jesus in our response. And if any of us are more like the lepers may we seek and receive Jesus' welcome into community with God and others. And may we be thankful.

God, our most honest words to you are "Unclean! Unclean!" and "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" Hear our cries and do what you do. And help us be more thankful and more like you. Amen.

ps- I have always found the art of Henry Martin intriguing and enchanting and whimsical. You might enjoy this powerpoint related to our text today:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

e-vo for week of November 16

Dearest e-votees-

We are coming to the end of the church year—Christ the King Sunday.

Our appointed gospel text is the pointed text of the sheep and the goats in the 25th chapter of Matthew.

May we have ears and hearts and eyes to discern what God would have us see.



31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46, NRSV

One of the places to really give heed to words is when last words are being spoken. When we have seemingly unlimited upcoming visits the weather or the Green Bay Packers or the latest TV show might be appropriate conversational fodder. When we know that this exchange may well be the last (at least for a very long time) the words and the conversation take on a much more profound gravitas. These words in our appointed gospel lesson are the last teaching of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. They are near the end of the gospel of Matthew as well--only the Passion, Resurrection and Great Commission accounts follow. Jesus knew his time was short and would not fill the void with idle chatter. He offers a powerful image of end times and what really matters. Do we have ears to hear?

A woman at my intern site, Gertrude, used to faithfully wear a button on her jacket which simply said:


People would ask about the button. Gertrude would tell them about “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” What a powerful witness.

What is so profound about this text is that no one, neither sheep nor goat, recognizes the Son of Man in those they are helping or neglecting. They are oblivious. What about us? Are we any different?

All sorts of people will cross our paths this day. We may well not even notice them. I pray we do. If we do we certainly may not discern in them the presence of the Son of Man. I pray we do. This last teaching of Jesus ought to give us pause. God is calling us to offer care and love to these hungry, lonely, sick, naked, imprisoned, thirsty souls. It really, really matters to God. It should really, really matter to us too.

And for those of us this day who are needing sustenance, feeling disenfranchised, away from healthy places, exposed, trapped by circumstances and parched we need to know that we really, really matter to the Son of Man too. Jesus empathizes with us and longs for our care and comfort. We are not alone. May many sheep cross our paths this day.

God shape us by 25:40. Teach us to see you in all we encounter particularly those on the fringes of neglect, need and neighborhood. Shape us into sheep who hear the master’s voice in the cries for mercy and care. Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

e-vo for week of November 9

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray that your commemoration of those saints who shaped you and went before you last week was good and blessed. This week our assigned epistle text talks directly to those of us who have not yet gone to be with Jesus about how we might wait faithfully.

May the words that follow be good and be a blessing to you as well.



5 1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, NRSV

People have been predicting the last day of the world frequently (and to date 100% incorrectly) for many, many years. Harold Camping’s multiple predictions of the end of the world, Heaven’s Gate and the accompanying suicides, for some it was the massive failure of computers due to the Y2K bug and many more doomsday scenarios have been lifted up to warn and terrify those gullible to such fears.

As our Thessalonians text tells us the day of the Lord will come suddenly and severely. None will escape the consequences and no one will know when it is coming.

So what are we to do?!? Live in fear and dread? Study the predictions and choose which of the end of the world scenarios is most likely to be so? Get drunk with fear and lurk in the nighttime corners hoping to get passed by? No!!!

We are saved. We are destined for salvation not wrath. Whether we are awake or asleep (a euphemism for death) we are alive in Christ. We need not hide in the dark. We need not try to numb and drown our fears in the night. God has chosen us. God’s choice is good and strong and irrevocable. We are saved.

Our time is best spent encouraging others. Are time is best spent building others up. We have faith and hope and love to protect us from any harm that might befall us as this temporary world passes away.

The next big end of the world prediction that is on people’s radar is from the Mayan calendar which seems to end in December 2012. So what are your plans for January 2013? What do you say to neighbors who grow anxious with possible global meltdowns and destruction? Do you scoff and sneer at others who seem to be so duped? Do you pour out encouragement and strive to edify? How do you answer the call to “love your neighbor”?

I have always been partial to the quote attributed to Luther. When asked what he would do if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow Luther is purported to have replied “I would plant a tree today.”

God is in control. God has saved us. God will do what God will do. The best things we can do is keep living faithfully doing what we do and let God—who is good and gracious and loving and forgiving—take care of the rest.

God, help us encourage and edify all those we can. Help us rest in your sheltering gifts of faith and hope and love. Whenever this world ends our new lives will continue with you. Thank you for never giving up on those you love. Help us know and live into that abiding and saving truth. Amen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

e-vo for week of November 2

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday is All Saints Sunday. It is a time when we remember people who have gone before us in the faith—particularly those who have died in the faith. May your commemoration of those who have helped shape you and shown you the way of faith be blessed. We have a deep and profound hope that we will be with those people again when God is most fully revealed.



1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

1 John 3:1-3, NRSV

We have been born into God’s family. Through baptism we are made children of God and a sister or a brother of Jesus. We now have the privileges and the responsibilities of participating in the family affairs:

• Family gatherings such as worship, fellowship events and service opportunities
• Family meals such as communion, potlucks and dinner groups
• Family rituals such as baptisms, consecrations and blessings
• Family celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries and special days and seasons
• Family mourning and contrition such as funerals, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday

There are so many aspects to life as the family of God. Some of that life has been revealed clearly. Some has yet to come. What we do know is this that it is possible to be in a family yet absent oneself from the life and the events of the family. God wants so much more from us and for us. God is revealed in the life of the family. God will continue to be revealed as we press on towards the day when God is most fully revealed. Let us not get in the habit of forsaking to gather… (see Hebrews 10:25)

May all of us this day be blessed as we are drawn deeply into our baptismal family. May we offer the hope and joy and possibility of adoption into God’s family for all who are estranged, cut off and non-participatory. God’s love that calls us children of God doesn’t stop with us. God’s love that calls us children of God would work through us to offer that self-same call to all who would hear.

As we lean into these strong promises of God we are made pure. When you see white this Sunday at church be reminded that you are made pure and that you are being made pure. That should be pure joy to your eyes and your soul. Amen.

God, thank you so much for each and every saint who has shaped our lives and our walk with you. Bless them and us and those yet to come as you are about the work of gathering and purifying. Help us be agents of joy and hope in a world that can be so scattered and so very sullied. Amen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

e-vo for week of October 26

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is the one set aside in the church year to commemorate the Reformation. It is a time when we remember God’s word becoming much more readily accessible to the people. It is a time of bold testimony and brutal consequences. So many of us take for granted having scripture in our own language at our fingertips (and on our computer screens). We take for granted the great religious liberties we have. We take for granted the many freedoms granted to us in Christ. Those privileges and freedoms have not always been so and in many parts of the world still aren’t. How might we live into the freedom Christ has won for us this day?



31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. "

John 8:31-36, NRSV

One of the most disturbing comments that sometimes arises as people leave worship service is “Nice sermon pastor, you really told them!” Them?!? Who would that be? When I preach I am talking to all—very much including myself. I hope the words coming from my mouth on behalf of, and I hope and pray inspired by, God are for US. We do that though, don’t we? We hear a sermon and say “Boy, it’s too bad Clem isn’t here today, he really needed to hear that one. “ Or “Once we can post our sermons on-line I’ll be sending links to Eunice, she really needs to get with the program.” Look at the people in our gospel lesson today—“Who us?!? You can’t be talking to us, we’ve never been slaves. We don’t need freedom. Who are you talking to Jesus?!?”

Scripture is for all but we can in many ways only take it in for ourselves. Scripture is living and active dividing down to joint and marrow (see Hebrews 4:12). For scripture to do the appointed work we need to get near it. We need access to it in languages we can read. We need it opened up and proclaimed in words that are accessible to us. Luther and Gutenberg and your pastor(s) and your small group studies and your individual time have all been part of opening scripture to you. You are invited to let it do the work it will without hiding, without ducking, without diverting or flinching.

There is a classic picture on the front of Beyond the Far Side where a bear in the sights of a rifle is pointing to another bear. He is trying to avoid the killing blow. He is much like the parishioners commending the sermon that ought to speak to the other person. God’s words are for us (and of course for others). God’s words have work to do in us. God’s words will convict us of our enslavement to sin, our broken ways and our hopeless future apart from God. God’s words can be killing. But it is a death that leads to life. God’s word will also and most importantly set us free. Jesus, the Son, aka the Word, will set us free. And when we are set free we are free indeed.

Stephen Curtis Chapman’s song “I’m Free” marvelously proclaims John 8:36. You can find a clip at:

The outro of the song is “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed!” over and over again fading out. Amen. May that song be on our dying lips and every day until them.

God, thank you for the bold and powerful work of Luther and the Reformers. Help us draw into the freedom of Christ. Help us not duck your reproofs and judgments but allow them to do their work. Continue to set us free in Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

e-vo for week of October 19

Dearest e-votees-

This week our appointed Old Testament text God gives Israel (and us) some clear clues as to how we ought to live together in community. Interesting stuff particularly with all the politics and activism going on these days. How might God want us to engage those around us who indelibly bear the image of God? How might God want us to react towards those who chafe us and would harm us and seem to be cut off from us?



1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, NRSV

Leviticus 19 is full of resonances with the 10 Commandments. It has many instructions for life as God’s people. Some of the instructions and prohibitions we let slide with our modern sensibilities. Others we hold as eternally-binding mandates. Which fall into each category might vary from person to person. That raises some interesting questions for perhaps another time.

For this week’s appointed text there are six commands:

1. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great; with justice you shall judge your neighbor.

Justice is intended to come regardless of how much money or status or influence our neighbor may have. Bribes and preferential compassion are disallowed. The justice of God’s people is to be blind. People are to be judged on the basis of their character and the merit of their claims not on the contents of their coin purses.

2. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,

We are not to tear down the characters and reputations of other people. We are not to bear false witness. We are not to shade the accounts to our favor at the expense of another. We are to strive to see the image of God in one another. This is a practice honed over a lifetime of diligent efforts. This runs contrary to Old Adam and Old Eve.

3. and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

Our profits should not come at the expense of harming our neighbor—neither literally drawing blood nor figuratively. Our profits should come as the result of honest and fair labor that regards the image of God in the workers and in those we serve. God cares about treating neighbors in ways that are just and fair and good. And God uses the term “neighbor” pretty loosely as evidenced in the story of the Good Samaritan.

4. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;

Our relations with our kin—our family and our community—are not to be evidenced by hatred. Love and compassion are to win the day. And God would probably use the term “kin” pretty loosely too as evidenced by John 3:16.

5. you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.

We don’t get to sit by idly and watch others engage in sin. We are called to be agents of reproof. We are called to engage our neighbors—and to let them engage us—when missteps occur. Getting through life is meant to be so much more than keeping our heads down and hoping the teacher doesn’t call us out. Reproof and rebuke are steps towards repentance and forgiveness—and we need those so very much.

6. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Loving self as neighbor calls us to avoid self-exultation and self-detestation. Loving neighbor as self calls us to avoid overly criticizing or shunning neighbors. Jesus pairs this commandment with the one to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds. Jesus says that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (see Matthew 22:34, part of this week’s gospel lesson). We aren’t to make room and plans for vengeance and grudges. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. This, too, is a practice honed over a lifetime of diligent efforts.

God, have your way in us. Draw us into the ways of your people. Shape us with your justice. Help us lift up and build one another. Help us love kin and neighbor and always work to dismantle barriers that leave others outside of your grace and mercy. Draw us up into the love and grace and mercy and peace of Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

e-vo for week of October 12

Dearest e-votees-

You would think that Jesus’ reputation would have been sufficiently known that people would stop trying to trap him with words and questions.

They never quite seemed to learn. As if somehow they could get away with putting themselves in the place of judging the creator. As if somehow they could take the very place of judging God. As if somehow they might themselves become like God knowing good and evil.

We are so fortunate to live in an enlightened age where we would never be so presumptuous.



15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" 21 They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15-22, NRSV

Does ownership reflect how you treat something? Do you treat things better when they are yours? Do you treat things better when you are borrowing them from someone else? Does it matter to you at all if you know the lender personally or if they are some faceless corporation? The whole notion of stewardship (which is what a lot of churches are talking about at this time of the year) is about how you treat something on loan to you from someone else.

It starts in the sandbox with two kids fighting over the same toy shouting “Mine!”. For some it progresses to vying for the same job or trying to woo the same person or trying to outbid one another at a charitable auction for all to see how generous we really are. We people fight over things. We fight over attention. We fight to be regarded well. We want better and more than others. We want others to notice how much better and how much more we have. Madison Avenue spends much effort selling discontent and upgrading to the next level of ownership.

Candidates and occupying emperors vie for allegiance sometimes subtly and sometimes much more aggressively. They ask for our support and our resources and our faithfulness.

The truth is this: All that this world has to offer is God’s. We don’t own anything—not one possession, not one talent, not one thin dime and not even one of the breaths our God-given lungs have provided today. All we are and all we have and all we could possibly offer is on loan from God.

Does God’s ownership reflect in how we treat things? Do we know the lender personally? What shall we do today with the things that aren’t even ours to begin with?

There is a fabulous quote by Jim Elliot (which you can see in his own hand at which says:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.

This is often read through the lens of Jim Elliot’s eventual martyrdom. How about through the lens of stewardship?

We don’t purchase our salvation with all the things we have on loan from God. But we can grow in understanding that we can hold much less tightly to things that are passing because God is holding so tightly to us. We can give to God what is God’s and not be so very concerned about what the emperor will be requiring. We can loosen our grip on that which we cannot keep and allow God to draw us more fully into God’s good keeping. When we look at our money, our possessions, our family, our career, our time, our _________ we should strive to make sure we remember to see God’s gracious hand and loving intentions. We can let God stir us into how best to engage and release those things that can be so precious and can be so defining and can be so confining.

God, draw us up into you. Help us shun the world’s ways of defining who we are through power, control, possession and achievement. Help us embrace your gracious love, your call to be servants, your example of giving all in the name of love and your humble example of washing feet and pouring out your life for the sake of others. Amen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

e-vo for week of October 5

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed gospel lesson for this week from Matthew 22:1-14 is one of those that is a little tough to follow up with “This is the good news of the Lord.” The lesson involves the parable of the wedding banquet where many are invited who spurn the invitation and kill some of the messengers. When the king finds out about this the people are killed and their city is burned. In the second round of invitations many are ushered into the wedding—both good and evil. One of the folks is found at the party without the appropriate clothes and tossed out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It ends with “many are called but few are chosen.” You should go to church this weekend and see how the preacher works with this rich and challenging text.

For my part in this devotion, however, I will opt for the epistle lesson in Philippians. Paul gives the church at Philippi (and us) the exhortation to rejoice always in the Lord.

May your week be one full of joy and peace and grace.



1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:1-9, NRSV

The writing of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is thought to be near the end of his life. Paul has seen much, lived much, suffered much, endured much—he is soon to be executed. Paul may or may not be happy—that flighty feeling that can dart in like a hummingbird and depart just as quickly. But Paul exudes joy. There is a deep and abiding contentment that oozes throughout Philippians—in spite of his circumstances.

Of course there are all sorts of things that one could choose to focus upon that would certainly chase the happiness away and perhaps even the joy—falsehoods, dishonorable things, unjust things, impure things, displeasing things, condemnable things—and Paul certainly knew of these things. Paul chooses , however, to turn his back to such things and to focus his attention on the exact opposites. And he encourages his beloved sisters and brothers in Christ to do the same. And he encourages us to do the same. If we want to most fully experience the God of peace we will follow after the lifestyles and admonitions of people like Paul.

We are not promised a smooth a trouble-free life as believers. In fact, some would argue we provoke more trouble and persecutions as we press more fully into Christ. Nonetheless there is a peace and a joy and a grace that comes from God that will sustain us. May we be comforted and sustained today and always with those divine blessings.

God, help us turn our eyes to those things which are pleasing to you. Help us care for our brothers and sisters who struggle—use us as agents of peace and grace and you. Draw us more fully into you. Amen.

I can’t read this text without having the song “Philippians 4” from the Spirit Garage ( Band start playing in my mind. You can hear a sample at

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

e-vo for week of September 28

Dearest e-votees-

September 29 is the day set aside to commemorate Michael and All Angels. There are appointed verses for this commemoration. We will use the appointed gospel lesson for the focus of our meditation for this week.




17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 18 He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Luke 10:17-20, NRSV

Jesus has sent out 35 pairs of people to places where he is intending to go. He gives them clear instructions on how they are to go about offering peace, receiving hospitality and doing ministry. He gives clear instruction about what to do when people reject the message and the messengers as well. They go out and do the bidding of the Lord. Our gospel lesson picks up upon their return.

The disciples are excited that through the ministry done in Jesus' name even the demons submit. Jesus doesn't correct or deny this. He says that he, himself, saw Satan fall from heaven. Jesus tells the disciples that he has given them authority to tread on snakes and scorpions (maybe a reference back to Genesis 3:15). Beyond that Jesus has given them authority over all the powers of the enemy. He promises that nothing will hurt them.

The focus, however, isn't on what miraculous or spiritual things are being done. Jesus says the point of celebration is that their names are written in heaven.

All of us may do great things. All of us may accomplish what to others seem impossible. As we operate through the gifts and empowerings of the Holy Spirit the sky is the limit as to what might occur through us. Jesus suggests that we pay that no mind in comparison with the celebration that our names are in heaven. God has chosen us. God has been at work in our baptism. God has entered our names into heaven. The rest is details. In some great measure the details are of small importance. God will do what God will do through us but the most important thing is what God has already done on the cross for us.

God, we so quickly get drawn into realms of power and accomplishment and notoriety. Jesus came to defeat the powers of this world and those of Satan. Jesus accomplished on the cross so much more than merely dying the death of a condemned criminal. Jesus stooped from being the creator of the universe to a battered and tattered creature and so elevated us all. Help us rejoice that through these acts of service and faith Jesus has indelibly inscribed our names into heaven. Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

e-vo for week of September 21

Dearest e-votees-

Thursday of this week is set aside as the day to commemorate the apostle Matthew. The lectionary has assigned texts for these days as well. For today’s devotional time let us consider the appointed gospel text for this commemoration.



9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

Matthew 9:9-13, NRSV

Matthew (aka Levi in Luke 5:27-32 and aka Levi son of Alphaeus in Mark 2:13-17) is a sellout. He’s collaborating with the occupying force (the Romans) to collect tax for them. Most likely he’s over-collecting to improve his bottom line. When the Pharisees make an issue of Jesus’ associations they lump all other sinners together yet give tax collectors their own category. Tax collectors were exceedingly poorly regarded. You would never want your kid to come home from school with the results of his vocational aptitude test leaning strongly towards tax collector. Jesus knew the shame and stigma of being a tax collector. And so he approaches Matthew and extends a call to discipleship.

Jesus knows us—better than we know ourselves. Jesus knows our secret places of shame and stigma. Jesus knows how many ways we and others might try to disqualify ourselves from being worthy of his attention. We might wonder what the creator of the universe and the Word incarnate might want to have to do with us. If we asked Jesus he would respond to us as he did to the Pharisees—“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” and “Follow me.” Jesus calls comes because of and to trump our unrighteousness.

Jesus knows others—better than we know them. Jesus knows their secret places of shame and stigma. Jesus knows how many ways they might try to disqualify themselves from being worthy of his attention. Jesus knows how much we might try to judge them as outside the grace and mercy of God. I heard long ago that when we try to draw lines of who is with Jesus and who is not we always find ourselves on the opposite side of the line as Jesus. There is some deep truth to that. Jesus comes for all—particularly the lost, the broken, the shamed, the stigmatized, the sick, the tax collectors, the sinners and those we and others would write off.

Jesus takes a stand with the lepers, the prostitutes, the sinners, those caught in adultery, the Samaritans, the demon-plagued and the broken. That is the good news of the gospel.

St. Matthew is the patron saint of bookkeepers, accountants, money managers, tax collectors, bankers, custom officers, security guards, etc. Good thing he spent some time learning about how to keep a gracious accounting from the one who puts our name in the book of life. May we be blessed by the account of Matthew’s life and his account of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel bearing his name. May we all be drawn in and sent out by the Great Commission that brings that gospel to a glorious close.

Jesus, thank you for the call to follow you. Help us lean into your righteousness rather than sulk and hunker down in our sinfulness. Help us know your mercy. Help us be agents of your mercy. Use us to live out your Great Commission. Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

e-vo for week of September 14

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday’s appointed Old Testament text is from Jonah. Jonah is pouting that God was gracious and generous to the people of Nineveh. I wonder where we might find ourselves in this account.



10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." 4 But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" 5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." 9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." 10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

Jonah 3:10-4:11, NRSV

Jonah, the ever reluctant prophet, is upset because he has proclaimed that the people of Nineveh will be overthrown in 40 days. The people (and the animals) repent with sackcloth and ashes. God sees their repentance and decides to spare the city. Perhaps Jonah is angry, as he says, because he realized God would spare the city anyway and is frustrated he made the trip and the proclamation for nothing. Perhaps Jonah is angry because what he said would happen will not come to pass—severe consequences can come to prophets who speak of things that don’t come true (see Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Perhaps Jonah is angry because he didn’t like what he saw as he made his way through Nineveh pronouncing judgment and now God is letting them off the hook. For these and other reasons Jonah is upset—to the point of saying he prefers death to life—and sets up a place to see what will happen to the town of Nineveh.

God provides a miraculous vine that grew to offer comfort to Jonah. Jonah was pleased. God sent a worm to wither the vine to seemingly offer discomfort to Jonah. Jonah is displeased. God sends a scorching wind. Jonah is further displeased. Jonah reiterates that he prefers death to life. God challenges Jonah’s anger. For a third time in these verses Jonah articulates his preference for death.

Where do you find yourself in this story today? Are you pressed into service unwillingly? Are you doing what was required of you but a completely different result than what was anticipated has emerged? Are you mad enough or sad enough or hurting enough to be able to say that you prefer death to life? Are you one who has been called out in a sin but willing to repent and seek God’s grace and forgiveness?

The take away from these verses is that God is concerned for us and for all (even the animals). God’s compassion trumps God’s judgment. No matter where we find ourselves in this story—God’s grace finds us and calls us out.

God, help us to hear your callings in our lives this day and abide in them. Help us be ones who rejoice when your mercy triumphs. Help us receive your gracious gifts. Help us seek your good for others. Help us choose life for us and for all. Thank you that you care so deeply for all—including us. Amen.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

e-vo for week of September 7

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and trust that his e-mail devotional finds you well.

Normally I base these devotions on one of the assigned lessons for the upcoming Sunday. This Sunday is of a different sort.

This Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the tragic attacks of 9-11. Sermons and prayers will undoubtedly find ways to recall the attacks that were so very devastating. This Sunday is of a different sort.

For many churches, including ours, this Sunday is also the kickoff of the church’s Sunday School year—Rally Sunday. Classes will commence, teachers will be installed and faith will continue to be intentionally formed. This Sunday is of a different sort.

Very interesting balancing act: commemorating and consecrating; celebrating and mourning; never forgetting our very human past and never forgetting God’s sure and certain future.



When 9-11 happened our church in South Dakota participated in a community wide prayer service. Each of the clergy types in attendance picked a passage to share and reflect upon. The passage that struck me then and still has things to say to us today, I believe, is:

Psalm 46, NRSV

1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

I suppose what caught my attention just after 9-11 was the tottering (and collapse of towers), the melting (of planes and steel girders), the uproar (during the attacks and in the aftermath) all set “in the midst of the city”. The promise of Psalm 46 is that God is to be found among the chaos and the hurt. Shaking mountains and profound and hurtful attacks are places where God hunkers down. Amidst all the noise and chaos God calls out “Be still, and know that I am God!”

Following after God doesn’t promise a life free from pain and persecution—sometimes it invites those very things. God’s silence and seeming inaction during horrific times can be troubling and even fatal to the faith of some. We don’t get simple answers during such times. Platitudes and bumper sticker theology can make deep and grievous wounds more painful still. Yet God calls us to hunker down.

God does not leave nor forsake us ever—particularly during painful and troubling times. God knows our pain better than we know it ourselves. God invites us to take refuge in that holy place of God’s sure and certain love. Melting and tumult and tottering and chaos and crying and uproar and grieving will continue to be present in this world. In the midst of the painful realities God is there for us. God invites us to be there for others as well.

As the title track of Jars of Clay’s new CD, The Shelter, says so eloquently (quoting from ancient poetry): In the shelter of each other we will live.

God, help us rest in the shelter you provide—and in the shelter you provide from others. Help all continue to heal from the grievous wounds we inflict on one another. Help terrorism become a thing of the past as we press into the glorious future you desire for all of us. Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

e-vo for week of August 31

Dearest e-votees-

We live in a world that is bombarded with messages--from TV, Twitter, billboards, radio, podcasts, signs being wiggled at the side of the road, pundits, hawkers, magazines, movies, music videos, books, bumper stickers, tattoos, etc., etc.--the amount of information that assaults our senses is staggering.

We have a message that the world and we so desperately need to engage. Will we share it? Will we engage it? Will we live it?



7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, "O wicked ones, you shall surely die," and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. 10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: "Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?" 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Ezekiel 33:7-11, NRSV

This verse talks about the accountability of the messenger first and the message second.

For the purposes of this devotion I would like to take them in reverse order.

The Message:

The Lord says I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live...

God doesn't take pleasure in the death of those who are wicked. It isn't necessarily clear if the death is merely a physical death or if perhaps it is referring to a broader and deeper death. Regardless, the point is that God doesn't take pleasure in the death--whatever sort--of those who are wicked. God would prefer that they would repent and live. We and others who are wicked don't return to God under our own strength and effort. God can and does work repentance in us. God takes pleasure in amended lives and repentant ways. The message that we and the world needs to engage is that God wants us to turn and live--and that God will help us do just that.

The Accountability:

But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

The message we have--offering God's love and assistance in repenting--needs to be heard. If we do not speak this message to the wicked--to us and to the world--then we share culpability in the death. If we do speak this message our lives will be saved. Perhaps our lives will be saved because in speaking this message of God's love and desire for repentance we will hear it again and again and again. We will live because we will be immersed in the message of God's love. We will live because we will be immersed in God's call to repentance. We will live because in the speaking comes the hearing comes the hope comes the faith.

God, you take no pleasure in the death of those trapped in wickedness. You take joy in life. Help us delight you by coming to life through your love and through the repentance you enable and you desire. Help us delight you by sharing that hopeful message to a world so desperately seeking hope. Be glorified and draw us all into your life. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

e-vo for week of August 24

Dearest e-votees-

One of the things we do is let Christ interpret scripture and let scripture interpret Christ for us. Our assigned epistle from Romans for this coming Sunday speaks so clearly about what Jesus was about during his ministry.

The term Christian (first used in Antioch; see Acts 11:26) is a way to speak of follower of Jesus as “little Christs” (as Luther said). If we are to be like Jesus then perhaps we ought to spend some time immersing ourselves in verses that so clearly speak of him. Perhaps they will speak to us this day, too.



9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21, NRSV

There are several strands in these verses:
+ abiding love
+ persevering faith
+ immersive relationships
+ blessing those who are against you
+ overcoming evil with good


The world has so corrupted love. God comes into the world motivated by and in order to show God’s love. The Greek word in verse 10 is “philadelphia”. The call is to practice love as towards a brother or a sister. Jesus came into the world to love and to love back into the family of God. We are called to love those we encounter—to be genuine, to hold onto that which is good, to hate the evil distortions of God’s love, to excel in showing honor to others.


We live in a 140 character feed, 30 second sound-bite, 15 minutes of fame kind of world. Our hopes are raised and dashed so easily. We cower from suffering. We pray in such fleeting ways. The garden of Gethsemane, the cross, the lingering of 3 years of ministry, the lingering love of a father whose son is off squandering the inheritance and so many other places show us a different way. We are in such need of rehabilitation into a faith that persists, that perseveres, that will not be shaken by the trials and tribulations of this fickle and hostile world.


Jesus came into the world to dwell with us. He offered hospitality and welcome to the strangers and outcasts—sinners, lepers, tax collectors, adulteresses, zealots, demon-possessed, tormented, neglected, cast-off and anyone else who might need a touch of healing and love. He wept with the grieving, celebrated with the joyful, hurt with the wounded, ate and dined with the hungry and thirsty. Jesus entered fully into our humanity and fully entered into relationships with humans. He was not haughty. He associated with the lowly. He lived in harmony with those who would allow that to happen.


God showed us through Jesus’ prayers from the cross a different way to respond to hurt, persecution and pain. Jesus was able to pray for forgiveness for those who nailed him to the tree. Jesus offered restoration to Peter who so quickly forgot his vows to follow Jesus even unto death. Jesus left room for God to do what God would but in the mean time loved his enemies. Judas was fed and had his feet washed at the Last Supper. Perhaps we can learn something from the gracious love of a mistreated God.


Jesus would not allow a base response to be teased out of him. His love, his faith, his goodness and his innocent suffering showed the world a different way. Mark 15:39 has what seems to be a deep confession of faith coming out of a very unlikely source (even more so when John Wayne speaks it). Would that be our confession too and that it would inspire us to overcome evil with good as well.

God, shape us into the form of little Christs. Help us abide in your love, persevere in faith, enter into authentic and life-giving relationships, bless those who set upon us and overcome evil with good—all to your glory. Send others into our lives to show us these ways. Amen.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

e-vo for week of August 17

Dearest e-votees-

This week we will look at the assigned epistle text for this Sunday from Romans 12.

There is a call upon us to offer ourselves to God, to let God shape us, to step into the places of service for which God has gifted us with humility and sober judgment.

May we all be aware of the many blessings we have received and be a source of blessing and healing in the world.



1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Romans 12:1-8, NRSV

Have you ever fallen asleep on something with texture—a quilt, thermal top, cushion with a crease—only to awake and have that impression residing on your face? You weren’t doing much at all; you weren’t making any conscious decisions; your weren’t bothering anybody—yet you took on the shape of the things around you. Our lives can be like those face-shaping catnaps. We aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. We aren’t aware of making any conscious decisions. We are just trying to make our way and not bother those around us. And as we make our way—almost sleepwalking—we drowse off. The next thing you know the world has left its mark on us. Our words or our thoughts or our reactions have taken a shape we never intended.

God wants us to not be shaped by the world. God wants to shape us. God wants to shape our thoughts and our reactions and our words. God wants to renew our minds. God wants to transform our hearts. God wants us to grow into God’s will which is good and acceptable and perfect.

God has created each of us with gifts and abilities which all come through God’s grace. Whatever those gifts God wants us to unwrap them. God wants us to engage them and let them engage us in service in the world. We aren’t to take license and pride in what has come to us purely through the hand of a gracious God. We ought to engage the service that God has put before us with humility and sober judgment. But better to sin boldly than to drowse off again.

As we grow into serving with the gifts that God has given us we will find deep and abiding joy. We will find ourselves awake and alert and making and impression on a sleeping world. May we all serve diligently this day making impressions for God and celebrating the gifts and services of others also fashioned in God’s image and serving through God-given gifts. This isn’t only a better path, it is spiritual worship. It sustains us; blesses God; helps heal the world.

God, shape us this day. Wake us from our sleepy world-dwelling and stir us to grow in serving in the gifts you have showered into our lives. Help us know your will and have the courageous faith to live into it—all to your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

e-vo for week of August 10

Dearest e-votees-

I will be out of town next week when this would normally be sent out so here it is.

I hope and pray that you have a blessed day.



1 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.

[2 Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil. 3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, "The Lord will surely separate me from his people"; and do not let the eunuch say, "I am just a dry tree." 4 For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.]

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

Isaiah 56:1 [2-5] 6-8

Our appointed text from the Old Testament for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost is above [with the excised verses restored for context].

One of most profound ministry moments I have experienced was when we were in Haiti helping to build a combination school and church building out of cinderblock. The downstairs was a multiple room school. The upstairs was a sanctuary and a smaller office. What was so stunning to me was that there was a lip surrounding the 2nd story. It was essentially a balcony with no railing encircling the building. Someone asked why that was built. The answer was that there are people who don’t feel worthy to come to church. If the lip was built, however, some would come and stand on the fringes. The hope and intent was that those people would be beckoned and welcomed into the community. Now, granted, I would have preferred a greased ramp going into a church (think of a trap-door spider with much more loving intentions) but I was struck by the architectural hospitality.

There are all sorts of examples of Jesus reaching out to those on the fringes—lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, ill, demon-possessed, etc. The great commission is for the followers of Jesus to go out into all of the world making disciples. Our buildings and our ministries should have lips and balconies and welcoming areas for all who might come but be a little tentative. Our meals and our sanctuaries should always have open and well-equipped places for those who might come—think of the place setting for Elijah at a Seder meal. Our posture should surely be extending a hand of welcome over and against a judgmental wagging finger of accusation.

The early church grew through the Holy Spirit stirring the early church to live as a loving community. That love and care was winsome and won many to Christ. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit can, will, does and wants to so much more work that way today in our modern expressions of faith communities. There are outcasts, lepers, misfit toys, tax collectors, socially inept, Samaritans, unkempt, ill, lonely, demon-possessed, hurting people all around. Some are very apparent; many carry these traits buried deep within. All are needing places of welcome, good news and acceptance. God does that through people—people like you and me.

God, stir us to seek ways to reach out and welcome those who are lost and lonely on the fringes. Stir us to know your love for us—the lost and the lonely. Your amazing love trumps our failures and our feeble attempts to push you away. Gather us and all into your presence. Help us all to glorify you and be built up into an architecturally hospitable dwelling for your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

e-vo for week of August 3

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s appointed epistle lesson reminds us that we don’t get to bring God to us on our terms. God beckons us to come on God’s terms. Those terms are through the good news of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.



5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that "the person who does these things will live by them." 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, "Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?' " (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 "or "Who will descend into the abyss?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." 14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

Romans 10:5-15, NRSV

We don’t earn our way to God. We don’t assert where our places is—in heaven or the abyss. We don’t get to summon God like a doting attendant on a cruise ship.

God comes into the world on God’s terms. God chose to come in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. None are saved by their lineage (physical or spiritual) nor by their understanding (wisdom, teaching, exploration). All are saved by the love of God which is so clearly revealed in Jesus. In believing in God we are justified. As we share the good news in confession, proclamation, exhortation we and those who hear are saved. When we believe in God we will never be put to shame. All can be saved—Jew, Greek, male, female, cradle Lutheran, skeptical fringe-dweller, your closest friends, the enemy you detest most profoundly…everyone. But the believing comes through hearing.

We gather at church so we can hear. We learn the stories and speak them to one another so we and others might hear. We go off to mission sites and give testimony so those who might not come can hear. We invite and chauffer so others can hear. We send people off to seminary and youth off on mission trips and hold Sunday school and Vacation Bible School so that all can learn to speak the good news. How beautiful are our feet when God sends us all to bring the good news.

God, please continue to send the good news into our lives. Help us be receptive and to have you come deeply into our lives in whatever ways you so choose. Bless our feet and our words and our actions that all might hear and believe and be saved. Amen.

e-vo for week of July 27

Dearest e-votees-

I had every intention of getting this out before I left for our mission trip to Las Vegas but time slipped through my fingers.

I hope and pray you are well and that these words are a blessing to you.



13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21, NRSV

The appointed gospel for last Sunday is the familiar feeding of the 5,000 (plus women, plus children maybe more like 20,000). This miracle is unique in that it is the only one of Jesus’ that is recorded in all 4 gospel accounts. When there is a really good story it gets told again and again and again. What is it about this miracle that is so compelling?

Several things:

Jesus is shown in verse 14 to have compassion on the crowds. Literally in the Greek he was “stirred in the bowels”. If you have ever seen someone so sad or so needy or so destitute and your insides hurt you get the sense. Jesus isn’t willing to turn some 20,000 people away to fend for themselves. This is remarkable. It is even more remarkable when we recall that Jesus was trying to get some alone time to grieve the beheading of his cousin John—his forerunner—his baptizer—as some sort of bizarre party favor at King Herod’s birthday party. He had every right and need to be curled into a ball of self-care but Jesus was supremely interruptible and put his needs aside for the sake of the many.

The crowds needed food. All that we have on record was five loaves and two fish. John 6:9 lets us know that this food was a little boy’s provisions. Jesus didn’t let the lack win the day. He took what was available and provided what was needed. How often do we look at our own circumstances and bemoan the shortfalls? God can do remarkable things with small amounts. God speaks order into chaos. God calls into being that which is not. God multiplies and renews and restores and forgives. We look in the mirror and see the need. God looks at us with love and compassion and finds a way.

Elijah feeding the woman at Zarephath and the ravens feeding Elijah (1 Kings 17); Manna in the desert and miraculous waters at Meribah (Exodus 16), temple tax from the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17), clothing of the lilies of the field (Matthew 12), water into wine (John 2), etc., etc. God has throughout scripture made miraculous provision from meager portions. When there is a really good story it gets told again and again and again and again and… God knows our need. God provides. It is part of our corporate story. We can live and trust and lean into that deep truth.

Not only does God provide, God over-provides. Solomon asked for wisdom two Sundays ago and God showered him with blessings. After the 20,000 or so were feed there were still large amount of leftover. Jesus made something like 120-180 gallons of the choicest wine to bless the wedding at Cana. God grants not only our needs but God blesses us so much more richly than we ever deserve. We can’t nor shouldn’t treat God like a giant vending machine in the sky. We can trust however that God loves us and takes care of us more than we ever could imagine or deserve. If we, though we are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children… (see Luke 11:13)

God draw us into your love. Help us rest in your provision and over-provision. Help us lean hard into the stories of your people—our people. Help us know your compassion and grow in our capacity to bless the world with that same care. Amen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

e-vo for week of July 22

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed text from the epistle to the church at Rome is a deep, rich text full of promise. Laden with the trinity and the abiding works they do that bring salving and saving.

May we be blessed as we linger in these truths this week.



26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:26-39, NRSV

There are times when our prayers—rote or spontaneous—run dry. We don’t know what should be the contents of our prayers. Or we know but have trouble mustering the faith that God cares or that God will act favorably upon that request. In short, words fail. The terminal diagnosis is spoken. The divorce papers are sealed and entered into the records of the courts. The needed job is snatched away or given to someone else in the interview process. We plain and simple don’t know how to pray or for what to pray. Rather than condemning us as faithless or weak or corrupt God—in the form of the Holy Spirit—comes and prays for us with sighs beyond what human words and minds can express. God does not forsake us.

There are times when forces—people and situations—rise up against us. We are hard pressed. We don’t know if we have the stamina to press on. Or we know but have trouble discerning if we are even in the right. We feel swamped and drowning. We feel besieged with a final winning blow at our expense moments away. We feel that maybe even the whole world is against us. We feel that maybe even God is against us. Rather than vanquishing us as faithless or weak or corrupt God—in the form of the Father—weighs in on our side. God says “this child is mine and I will give all I have—even my only begotten—that this one will not perish.” God does not forsake us.

There are times when separation—emotional and spiritual—from God seems huge and getting even more insurmountable. We are crushed by circumstance, persecution, lack of necessity and exposure to dangers. We take stock of our lives and decide that we are going to lose if we have not lost already. Our mortality, powers and principalities, where we are or where we will surely go, scope and size of challenges seem sure to pry us out of the loving hands of God. Rather than writing us off and dismissing us as faithless or weak or corrupt God—in the form of Jesus—says “It is finished.” and “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” What Jesus has done is sufficient once for all and we are grafted deeply into the trinity. The God who will not forsake us. Thanks be to God.

God, help us to live into these incredible and certain promises. Help us to bear witness to the world with these same life-giving assurances. You do not forsake us. Help us learn and live into not forsaking others for they are surely crafted in your image. Amen.