Monday, March 28, 2011

e-vo for week of March 30

Dearest e-votees-

I will be out of the office this week so I am sending this out early.

May your time lingering in Lent be blessed. May the Lord be with you as you look into your own heart. Know that you have been chosen, along with David, to be part of the lineage and family of Jesus.

May you find comfort and peace and strength and grace this day.




1 The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." 2 Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, "I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you." 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" 5 He said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these." 11 Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:1-13, NRSV

The choosing of David is a powerful account in the Old Testament. The people wanted a king. God wanted to relate to the people more directly. The people persisted. God relented. Saul was anointed. Saul ended up poorly. God chooses David to take Saul’s place. Samuel pays a visit to Jesse the Bethlehemite.

While Samuel was visiting all of the sons (save one) of Jesse passed by. I get visions of a fashion runway in Paris (although the clothes might have been a tad more rustic and the smells not quite so flowery). Samuel has in mind his favorite, Eliab. Perhaps Jesse, if he is tracking with all that is going on, has his favorite as well. Who will be the next Israeli Idol? After all of the “performances” none of the contestants have been chosen. Samuel asks Jesse if one has been missed. Out comes David who was handsome and ruddy and had beautiful eyes. Odd that these features get mentioned since the Lord already said to Samuel that appearance and height don’t matter for the Lord looks on the heart. David ends up “winning” the prize. David is anointed as king. The Holy Spirit comes upon him mightily from that day forward.

David’s life certainly wasn’t smooth sailing from that point on. Saul tried to kill him on occasion. David had great victories (in battle, with Goliath, etc.) and outstanding moral failures (Bathsheba, killing off Uriah to get said Bathsheba as his own, etc.). But regardless of his successes or his failures the Holy Spirit persisted in David. It stirred him to song and poetry (notice how many psalms are attributed to David) and certainly gave him courage and fortitude throughout his career as king and his lifetime.

You have been brought before the Lord as much as David if you have been baptized. When you got to the font you were anointed and brought into the family of God. The Holy Spirit has come into your life mightily. The resident Holy Spirit is no guarantee of smooth sailing. People may come after you. You may have glorious accomplishments. You may have moral failings that would rival David’s darkest moments. But regardless of what you do or do not the Holy Spirit persists in you. It can stir you to song and poetry and can certainly give you courage and fortitude as you make your way through this life.

God has looked at you and at your heart. And God says, this is my beloved son; this is my beloved daughter—with this one I am well pleased. God chooses us first, before we can earn or spurn God’s love. God continues to choose us even if we stray—particularly if we stray. The 1 sheep that is saved at the risk of the 99 should be an encouragement to us that God will never leave nor forsake us. You have been sealed and anointed with the Holy Spirit—that doesn’t wipe off.

Rise and serve God this day with an encouraged and a peaceful heart. You are the one God has chosen.

God shape us into your people. Thank you for choosing us. Help us find ways to continue to choose you throughout this day and our whole lives. Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

e-vo for week of March 23

Dear e-votees-

Our appointed epistle lesson for this week speaks of boasting.

Of what are you most proud? In what do you exult? In what do you glory?



1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:1-11, NRSV

The world teaches us to boast of our accomplishments. The world teaches us to exult in a well-rounded curriculum vitae. The world teaches us to glory in what we have done that others only wish they could have done. When we lean too hard on the world’s understanding we focus on lifting ourselves up. It we can’t lift ourselves up than it will often suffice to tear down those around us. We go through this world as competitors where there are winners and losers. We strive and we strain and we do what we can in our own power to be on the side that wins.

God calls us to be so very different than the world. God calls us to put our own accomplishments aside (as did Paul) compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ. Paul compares his impressive list of ranks and achievements to raw sewage (generally translated something more gentle like “rubbish” in Philippians 3:8) in light of what Jesus is and has done.

Jesus, in the world’s eyes, wasn’t one in whom you would boast. He didn’t have much. The company he kept left much to be desired. He eventually was tortured and condemned and lifted up but not in the way that any of us would hope to be lifted up. The world would put Jesus clearly in the loser column. Anyone daft enough to follow after one such as him would certainly be in that column as well.

Paul writes some verses that Lutherans lean upon quite profoundly:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV

We have been saved in way that disallows boasting. We have been drawn into God in a way that allows good works to be the fruit of renewed lives not the entrance fee to an exclusive club of winners. When we fail and when we struggle and when we suffer we are shaped into people with endurance. Those experiences, painful though they may be, cultivate character. As we grow in character we learn to hope in the face of the “raw sewage” of life. And hope does not disappoint us. If we are to be boastful people (in the taking glory sense and the exulting sense so much more than the prideful sense) then we are to boast in God through Jesus. We are to boast even in our sufferings which God uses to work things for good since we love God and are called according to God’s purpose. If we boast it is not in who we are or what we have done—it is in whose we are and what God has done on the cross.

God, draw us up into our Lord Jesus. Help us not to be haughty but to be willing to wash feet and talk with the outcasts we meet at the wells of our life and even dare to give our lives away that others may find the true life in you. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

e-vo for week of March 16

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray that your time of being more focused spiritually during Lent—whether through Lenten disciplines or not—is blessed. This time of 40 days (46 if you fold back in the Sundays which are not counted as they are “little Easters”) is one where we might spend some time being reflective and introspective and penitential and perhaps even remorseful. We may wonder about our lives and particularly how we have or have not allowed God to be the healing and guiding presence that God should be. May we be encouraged by the words of this Sunday (the 2nd Sunday of Lent)‘s appointed psalm.



1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 121, NRSV

This psalm is labeled in scripture as a song of ascents. It is a song that people would have sang while making pilgrimage to Jerusalem which is located at an elevation above the surrounding territory (hence the going down to Jericho in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30). As people were making their way up the city to bring their praises and their offerings their eyes would be set upward. This looking up for provision and deliverance and salvation is much like the people in the wilderness casting their gaze on the bronze serpent (see Numbers 21:4-9). Jesus tells Nicodemus in our appointed gospel text of John 3:1-17 that the Son of Man must be lifted up just as the serpent was. Jesus connects the cross with the provision and deliverance and salvation from that bronze snake that came to be known as Nehushtan (see 2 Kings 18:1-5).

This song of ascents, Psalm 121, is one of my favorites for bedside at the hospital or during a funeral or on the way to the graveside. Our hope and our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. God is watching over us. God is ever vigilant and ever caring. The Lord keeps us. Our times are in God’s hands. Our comings and our goings are in God’s hands.

This should not be mistaken as an understanding that everything that happens to us is straight from God’s hands. This doesn’t mean that God caused the earthquake and tsunami and nuclear threats that are plaguing Japan right now. We don’t necessarily read into tragedies the judgment of God. Those who read into the AIDS crisis or hurricane Katrina or 9-11 judgment meted out directly by God have a much different confidence in their ability to determine divine causation than I. The shameful protests from groups at military funerals proclaiming God’s judgment are way too simplistic and absolutely heartless. The faith statement is that God is with us in our comings and goings. I believe God comes to be with us during our broken and hurting times. I believe Lent is about Jesus coming and being with us during our times of soul searching—the 40 days in the desert were as much for us as for him I believe. Jesus being raised up on the cross is a powerful symbol of how much God hurts when our sins get the best of us. Jesus making arrangements for John and Mary and for the repentant thief and praying for those who nailed him to the cross speak volumes about God’s intent for us all—whether faithful since youth or converted at the very last moment or not even interested in things of faith. God is watching over our going outs and our coming ins.

We will all die. God doesn’t spare us from that pain. We will all have tragedies befall us. God doesn’t spare us from that pain. We will all have fallen moments where all we can do is look up and plead for God to save us. God doesn’t spare us from that pain.

God came and died. God did not avoid that pain. God had tragedies befall God particularly betrayal and denial and the cross. God did not avoid that pain. God had a time of desperate pleading in the garden of Gethsemane. God did not avoid that pain.

We are saved because God has come into the world. God has become one of us fully. God has done what was required. God is our help. God is our hope. God is our salvation. God is keeping us.

God, help us know that you are with us today—in our going outs and our coming ins. Help us know that nothing we experience is beyond your compassion, your experience and your saving power. Keep our lives. Help us yield them to you for that safekeeping. Use us as agents of your compassion and your salvation in a world that can be so cold and self-serving. Send us to wash feet and dry tears and offer hope. Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

e-vo for week of Ash Wednesday

Dearest e-votees-

Remember you are dust
and to dust you shall return.

~God, Genesis 3:19b




4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:4-7, NRSV

This account from Genesis reminds us that humanity is formed from the inert elements of the ground. Others (some scientists among them) will talk more poetically about us being formed from the stardust. Our bodies are composed of simple elements and compounds combined in intricate and miraculous ways. A little navel gazing (not going into if Adam had a belly button or not today) might serve us well. As we ponder the gift of our body and our elemental existence we might be drawn to remember the one who crafted us. Adam’s name means dirt or earth or dust or some such thing. Adam was a dusty creature. We are no less so.

There is a joke I have been known to trot out in the pulpit now and again, here is one variation of it:

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!"

But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."

The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"

This version of the joke can be found at: (web pages certainly are becoming legion and pretty darn specific these days)

What I would hope is that we could embrace the claim implicit in the joke. The dirt and dust and earth and other such things belong to God. Adam was a dusty creature and God laid claim to him. We are no less dusty and no less God’s.

We are God’s handiwork and creation from the day of our inception (probably even before) until long after our bodies have become more like the original elements that formed us. We are dust—and God’s. We shall return to dust—and remain God’s. Every dusty, dirty, earthy day in between we are God’s as well.

Perhaps the world teaches us that “We are gods.”—that we can do whatever we will; that we don’ t need any other gods; that God can, in fact, leave us alone as we can take care of things just fine by ourselves.

The reality is that “We are God’s”—God will let us do whatever we will but it can come at great cost; that we do need God; that when we do take care of our own matters we are anything but fine.

Our life and breath are God’s. Our breath is literally on loan to God into our dusty frames. God will not leave us nor forsake us. When we fail into earthy and broken ways, God claims us. When we let our spirits grow dry and dusty, God blows breath into our parched bones and ways. When we try to put an end to God meddling into our lives once and for all with a mallet and spikes and a cross and a dry tomb God says things like “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they are doing” and “I am the living water for your parched existence” and “Peace be with you, I can’t stay dead”.

God, help us remember we are dust. God, help us remember to dust we shall return. God, help us remember whose dust this is. Amen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

e-vo for week of March 2

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday, marks the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany. In this last Sunday of this church season we commemorate perhaps the most unusual revelation of who Jesus is. It is recorded in the three synoptic gospels—Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36. May we be blessed as we linger with this strange and powerful, not-of-this-wordly expression of some of who this Jesus is.



16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

2 Peter 1:16-21, NRSV

As you ponder the account of the Transfiguration (feel free to go look and come back—we’ll wait) please make your selection as to your response

[ ] You can’t make this stuff up!!!

[ ] It’s too strange not to be true!!!

[ ] Don’t you think I would come up with a better lie?!?

[ ] All of the above

What do you do with an account that involves heroes of the faith long dead and gone chatting as if nothing of the sort had happened to them? What do you do with a voice speaking from the heavens echoing the words at the river Jordan when Jesus was baptized? What do you do with clothes whiter than anyone could ever bleach them? (and how did Mark become such an expert on the upper limits of whitening abilities of global laundering facilities?) What do you do with a powerful revelation that is supposed to be kept under wraps until (as Matthew records) Jesus is unwrapped from the grave cloths? What do you do with an account like this?

There are so many moments that could have been cited in our assigned text from 2 Peter but the one chosen is a quotation from the Transfiguration—not the feeding of the 5,000 (besides women and children); not the walking on water; not the raising of Lazarus; not the powerful parables; not the confrontations with the civil and religious authorities; not the words from the cross and not the words from the resurrected Jesus. Apparently the Transfiguration made quite the impression. A moment so compelling that it trumps “cleverly devised myths” even though it sounds suspiciously like one of them.

We are blessed to be recipients of a God who comes into the world in unexpected and undeniable ways. Ways that speak prophetically and at the same time paradoxically beckon us to linger (making shelters) and cause us to cover in holy fear. Ways that defy logic and reason and yet bear deep and lasting testimony that marks us indelibly for our earthly lives and our lives that persist beyond this mortal coil. Ways that speak in deep and resounding voices that make Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones (and for those who know him, Frank Olson) seem like Alvin and the Chipmunks on helium. Ways that trump the shallow hucksterism and consumer voyeurism of our covetous society and show us the one this that is true and lasting and needful.

May we all be attentive to this lamp burning in our midst and in our hearts. May we let our lights so shine in response that others can help but see past us to our Father in heaven and give glory. May we let the illusory lights of Hollywood and spotlights that we desire to point our way and the glitz and glimmer of the newest gizmo fade in comparison to the Light and the Truth and the Way.

God, reveal yourself to us again in the person of Jesus. Help us be transformed and transfixed. Use us to proclaim your glory. Amen.