Wednesday, January 26, 2011

e-vo for week of January 26

Dearest e-votees-

This is one of those weeks where all of the scriptures are like low hanging fruit. It’s hard to know which to pick when preaching or when doing an e-mail/blog devotional. We have available Micah 6:1-8 (“…to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”), Matthew 5:1-12 (The Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12) and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (the cross being foolishness and a stumbling block). The appointed psalm, Psalm 15, while maybe not as familiar is strong too.

May we be blessed as we draw near these strong scriptures this week. May those blessings spill out into the world.



18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

1 Corinthians 1:18-31, NRSV

There are plenty of reasons that people give for not following Jesus, for not pursuing the teachings of Christianity, for not darkening the door of a church. How many have you heard? How many have you used? Some come from places of deep hurt and rejection. Some come from much more trivial and petty places. Some are about musical style or structures of worship. Some are about language or ambiance or scheduling. There are plenty of reasons.

And the reality is that these reasons, however they may strike us, are true and deep and significant for those who offer them. People have reasons for not drawing near to the cross.

We have had something to do with giving people reasons to reject this way of Jesus. Perhaps our best starting point would be to examine ourselves, our ways and our communities. Where we have put up obstructions and hindrances we should dismantle them. There is a wonderful section in Blue Like Jazz where the Christians erect a confession booth on the campus of Reed College. When curious people stop by, the Christians confess that they have not carried the faith well and seek forgiveness. Perhaps that is what we might do as well.

As we are able we are to do so we should make our churches and our testimonies and our invitations places of welcome and grace. If our forms and structures, words and methods drive a wedge between the seekers and God we would do well to repent and try again.

Bottom line, the purpose of institutional church and worship is to dismantle hindrances and obstructions not in order to have people be entertained and placated and pacified but in order to facilitate a profound encounter with the cross—the greatest obstacle we will ever encounter. If we seek to construct a user-friendly church it is only for the sake of escorting that person straight into the foot of the cross. The cross still seems like foolishness and a stumbling block. It is a grisly moment in history, a violent means of salvation, a death that we are called to embrace, a dark moment in which we are complicit. We need to profoundly encounter that place.

We don’t boast in our accomplishments or the size of our congregations or the sound of our choirs and church music. Eloquence in preaching, when it is found, is a gift from God. Our boasting, if it must be, is in our Lord. Our claim is in what Jesus did on the cross to claim us. Our hope is not found in us. Thanks be to God for that.

This week as we and any visitors that may come enter into worship may be all put aside distractions and hindrances and gather at the foot of the cross. It has been said that the ground around the foot of the cross is level. There is no hierarchy. Luther’s last recorded words were that we are all beggars, this is true.

God, gather us at the foot of the cross. Where we have driven others away through acts of commission or omission we pray for new chances and changed hearts. Help us be people of hope. Help us bear that hope well as we all draw closer to your cross and the good news that is found there. Amen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

e-vo for week of January 19

Dearest e-votees-

The assigned psalm in the lectionary for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany comes from Psalm 27. There are verses that are excised from the psalm in the appointed text.

For our devotional thoughts this week we’ll look at the psalm in its entirety. The texts set of in the “[ ]”s are the ones that didn’t make the pericope cut.



1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

[2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.]

4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!

[10 If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!]

Psalm 27 appointed [and unappointed] verses.

The verses that are removed speak much more directly about the pains and the harms that people can work each other. Evildoers can seek after us to devour our flesh (hopefully this is metaphorical but it is still quite vivid). Enemies encamp against us an prepare to wage war. Parents and others appointed to watch over us and guide us and love us can fail. People can rise us with slanderous tongues and libelous keyboards. The can breathe out untruths and violent murmurings. When such things assail us we can find hope and security and refuge in the Lord.

Of course, we are not always the recipients of such events—at times we are the perpetrators. We can seek after our enemies hoping to devour their flesh (hopefully this is metaphorical but quite vivid nonetheless). We hunker down and prepare to wage war against our perceived enemies. We fail those we are called to watch over and guide and love. We put the worst construction on everything and post it (verbally or in other ways) where the listenership is maximized. We exhale untruths and menacing murmurings. We drive others to seek refuge and security and hope in the Lord.

We do well to return to the beginning of this psalm “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Whether we are beset upon or are plaguing others—none of us need to fear. God knows the worst that could happen to us and could happen through us. It is precisely such knowledge that sends God into the world in the form of Jesus to disrupt our sinful and painful and hurtful cycles with the good news of the gospel.

Jesus has endured all the things that beset us as fallen humanity. Jesus knows our pain.

Jesus has forgiven all those who inflict pain and grief on others—tax collectors, his enemies, the soldiers who killed him and us.

Jesus knows our pain. Jesus knows our broken lives. Jesus knows our broken ways. Jesus love us. Since that is so, whom shall we fear?

God, draw us into the rich and vibrant prayer of Psalm 27. Help us lean into you when we are inflicted upon. Help us do the same when we are the inflictors. Change our hearts and draw us more fully after you. Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

e-vo for week of January 12

Dearest e-votees-

Grace and peace to you. This Sunday is the second Sunday after Epiphany. It is the church season where we are particularly focused on God and God’s plans being revealed.

Our appointed epistle text comes from the introduction of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.

May you be blessed and may you be a blessing.



1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9, NRSV

This letter is addressed to the saints in Corinth. It is directed towards those who being made holy by God—being sanctified. It is penned for those who are called to be saints. Paul then includes in the “CC:” line all those who in every place call upon Jesus the Christ as Lord. That means us too. Paul, carried along by the Holy Spirit, writes to us.

Scripture is like that. It is written to particular people of particular places and times into particular circumstances. It is also written to all people of all places and times to a wide variety of circumstances. God’s word is: “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12b) The ability of God’s word to get into us and to reveal us as we truly are transcends time and circumstance.

Paul goes on to assure the Corinthians and us that God has enriched us with grace and with testimony about Jesus. We have been equipped with what we need in terms of the life-sustaining truth as well as spiritual gifts to grow into the truth and to share it with others. We have what we need to sustain us as we wait until the second coming (the Great Epiphany, if you will). God has provided for us.

Beyond spiritual gifts and testimony, God will provide us with strength, courage and stamina so that we can run the race that is laid out before us well. God is faithful and has not called us to a task beyond God’s ability to work through us.

As you keep reading the letter to the church of Corinth you realize that there are some who certainly did not abide as faithfully or as regularly with God as intended according to the glorious call placed on their lives. Truth be told that might be true for us too. We forget the high calling. We trust in our own strength. We try to eke out a living on our own neglecting God’s gracious provisions. We slip; we fail; we sin. But God will not give us on the Corinthians nor us that easily. There is good news to be found in Jesus Christ and God is relentless in pouring that good news into our lives. Revealing it through big and little epiphanies. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for calling us to be saints. Thank you for your provisions of grace and revelations and epiphanies. Draw us more deeply into your grace particularly when we shirk your high and holy callings. Help us know you and be agents of revealing you in this world you have created and that you love. Amen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

e-vo for week of January 5

Dearest e-votees-

This Thursday, January 6, is Epiphany. It is the beginning of the next season of the church year, also called Epiphany. It begins after the 12 days of Christmas have run their course.

Epiphany is about God being revealed to the world. It begins with Jesus’ baptism (commemorated this Sunday) and ends with the Transfiguration (March 6).

May we all be open to God being more fully revealed in our lives. May our light so shine, like that star of Bethlehem, that others might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.



13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

Matthew 3:13-17, NRSV

John asks a question that all of us could ask. Why is Jesus baptized? Was it because he needed sins remitted? Was it so that he could be attached to the community of the Trinity? Was it “to get the kid done”? Was it to get grandma and grandpa off our backs? Was it done out of force of habit? Was it done for the commemorative gifts from the congregation and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans? All of these answers seem to range from less-than-satisfactory to completely inane.

Why was Jesus baptized?

Jesus says it is to fulfill all righteousness.

God the Father takes the opportunity to offer a word of affirmation (not unlike the other epiphanic bookend at the Transfiguration—see Matthew 17:5).

John takes the opportunity to put his plans aside and abide with the desires of Jesus. This is part of John becoming less while Jesus becomes greater (see John 3:30).

How will we plug into the opportunities afforded by Jesus’ baptism? Jesus fully enters into humanity through his birth, his circumcision, his baptism, his childhood, etc., etc. Jesus draws near to us. In baptism he identifies with us in our broken and dirty states. Jesus draws near to us and God the Father approves.

When we draw near to our baptisms we draw near to Jesus. Regardless of why we were baptized (many of us had no choice, others of us might have come out of mixed motives) God was present at our baptisms. God says to us “This is my daughter” and “This is my son” and God is well pleased to receive us into the community of the Trinity. This is done by virtue of Jesus doing what we could not. Jesus frees us and redeems us. It is into that hope and joy that we are baptized. It is in order to bring about that hope and joy that Jesus was baptized.

God you draw near to us in Jesus. You draw near to us in Jesus’ baptism. Help us draw near to our baptisms daily. Help us know that your love trumps our failures; that your healing trumps our disease and our dis-ease; that you are faithful to the baptismal promises you make. Thank you. Amen.