Wednesday, April 27, 2011

e-vo for week of April 27

Dearest e-votees-

Blessed Easter to you all. The world is ready to move past Easter on to Mother’s Day and Memorial Day and whatnot. We in the church, however, linger for 50 days. We luxuriate in the empty tomb and how that redefines us and attaches us to the resurrection hope.

This coming Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, always has the text about Thomas (who is unfortunately labeled “Doubting Thomas”). We will use the appointed epistle for our focus this week. May you be blessed.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! And we shall be raised too.



3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9, NRSV

There are three things that jump out of this text:

• There is an inheritance that is coming
• While we wait for that we experience trials
• Faith is a venture that transcends what we can discern with our senses


The gift that comes when someone dies has little to do with what the inheritor has done or not done. Unless there is a stipulation in the will the gift comes purely as a gracious act on the part of the author of the will. God gives us new birth through the death of Jesus. We are attached to an inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” given to us freely through the hands of God. Not to say that the gift came freely—it came through the piercing of the hands of God. It came through a sham trial and a shameful scourging and an unjust crucifixion. If our salvation—our inheritance—were contingent on our worthiness we would all be in a world of trouble. But, God endured trials and pains to secure for us what we could not. Because God is imperishable and undefiled and unfading so is the gift that God bestows on us. God’s promises are all “Yes and Amen” in Christ Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 1:18-20).


There is no promise that if we follow after Jesus our lives will become less painful or more blessed or more comfortable. Jesus talked about taking up a cross and following after him—there was little discussion about wealth and abundance and provision at least as would speak to our modern sensibilities. Church tradition holds that 11 of the original 12 apostles and Paul came to violent deaths. The church came under fierce persecution under Nero. There has been persecution of the church in one form or another from that day forward. As we grow in our ability to articulate and live out an ever-deepening faith there will be consequences. The world and the devil may kick back against what we are trying to say with our actions—and perhaps our words. Trials will come. But our hope as people of faith is that God will use such trials to burn the dross out of us and refine us like a precious metal. The promise isn’t that only good things will happen to us. The promise is that God can use all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. (see Roman 8:28)


Thomas, this Sunday, asks for a reasonable demonstration of a fantastic claim—as Carl Sagan used to say: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Thomas wanted to see and to touch the risen Lord. Don’t you? But we don’t get to see Jesus directly. Bizarre claims of Jesus appearing on billboards or pieces of toast and other faith figures showing up as salt stains in underpasses and other peculiar places betray how much many of us long to see manifestations of God with our senses. As much as we might long for such experiences they are rare if at all. And our senses can so easily be manipulated or deceived. God has chosen to constrain much of our communal experience of God to two senses—taste and hearing—through sacrament and word—through communion and the Bible. We appropriate God through faith. God is the one who gives us faith. We cannot even muster belief on our own. Rather than label and judge Thomas we should own that we are kindred spirits—longing to touch and see Jesus. But in spite of the challenges, God has given us the gift of belief. And we are receiving the outcome of that faith—the salvation of our souls.

God, help us to live faithfully as we await the inheritance that you have promised. Give us courage and good cheer as we face trials and tribulations. Strengthen our faiths in spite of what besets our senses. Grant us the salvation of our souls. Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

e-vo for Holy Week

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray that this finds you well as we draw closer to the passion of our Lord Jesus. I hope you will do whatever is required to draw near to the story that has so much to do with our story.

The appointed epistle lesson for this Wednesday of Holy Week says this:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3, NRSV

Part of laying aside the weights and the sin, part of running with perseverance, part of considering him who endured such hostility from sinners is gathering with the community around Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter. May your worship and your gathering with community be blessed. Take your place among the great cloud of witnesses.



21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" 26 Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival"; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

John 13:21-32, NRSV

Jesus is staring death in the face. His death was designed to be lingering and horrific so others would see what happens when you cross the Romans—they cross you. The disciples of Jesus are not tracking so very clearly. They are all sharing a Passover meal. As the story about the lamb being slaughtered so that the blood smeared might offer salvation to those whom it covers was told it surely was not lost on Jesus. As the story of the deliverance from the hand of Pharaoh was recounted Jesus surely knew that another deliverance was underway. Jesus was making reference to this way back in the 3rd chapter of John when he talked about the Son of Man being lifted up just as the serpent was in the desert. Jesus is painfully aware of what is going on.

It is at this Passover meal that Jesus layers on another level of remembrance and promise with Holy Communion. He takes some of the unleavened bread of the Seder meal and says “This is my body, given for you.” He takes one of the four glasses of wine from the Seder meal and says “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, given and shed for you.” “Do this in remembrance of me” says Jesus. And so we do.

One thing that we ought to remember too— Judas was present at the meal. In our gospel text above Jesus identifies Judas as the one who will betray him. In Luke 22:13-23 it is even more clear that Judas partook of the first communion before he left the table to betray Jesus. Peter was present at the table too—this Peter who would so quickly deny Jesus even after promising to follow him through prison and death. All who were at the table found ways to hide and cower and flee and lull off to sleep during Jesus’ time of great need.

It is so troubling to many, including me, when restrictions are so fiercely erected around the communion table. Altar rails become chainlink fences with razor wire keeping out those we deem unworthy or unfaithful or not believing enough. To be sure there are better ways to partake of communion and those conversations are good to be had speaking the truth in love—but, bottom line, I don’t think we should be less inclusive than Jesus when we partake of the holy meal.

Jesus fed Judas and Peter and would feed us too—who is less deserving than the three of us? Jesus washed the feet of Judas and Peter and would wash our feet too—who is less deserving than the three of us?

Jesus in so many ways we stray and falter and take our rightful place among the unreliable and unworthy disciples. Yet you feed them and you clean them. You feed us in your holy supper. You wash us in baptism. Help us never scorn people away from your precious means of grace. Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

e-vo for week of April 13

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week with Palm Sunday. As Lent culminates with this most holiest of weeks I pray that we would be challenged, engaged and comforted by the deep and abiding truths that are to be found throughout the week. May our worship be blessed. If you know of people who don’t know of these deep and abiding truths I pray you would consider inviting them to experience this powerful week with us this year.



1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, "The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately. " 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" 11 The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

Matthew 21:1-11, NRSV

What is the proper comparison in our times to Jesus arriving into Jerusalem? Do we lay it aside a presidential visit with all the pomp and circumstance and the associated activity of the secret service? Do we consider the red carpet going into the Oscars with all of the fawning and strutting and critiques? Do we compare it to the pope coming out to address the adoring masses? Do we go towards the grand entrance of the newest gadget with folks camping out and getting into shoving matches over the limited supplies and the special rollout prices? What in this world and in this time offers any sort of comparison to God-incarnate entering into the holy city to face down the final week, the passion with all its deep and visceral moments, the agony of the cross and the triumph of the empty tomb? Probably nothing which is what can make it so hard to draw near to this event.

The world makes much of these moments with motorcades of limousines, photo opportunities, prepared speeches and sound-bites. Jesus came in on a donkey. Jesus says nothing to the crowds in Matthew, Mark or John—Luke has the exchange where he says “I tell you if [his disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.” Jesus doesn’t offer any interviews on the way into town. He is noticeably silent (perhaps a foreshadowing of his self-defense at the upcoming trial before the powers of this world). Jesus seems to be tending to fulfilling prophecies and perhaps challenging the fanfare and the elusive adoration of a fickle world. Where are all these adoring folks later this week?

When Jesus comes into the world the world responds in turmoil. There are all sorts of examples in scripture—Herod trying to kill off Jesus through the slaughter of the innocents, the townspeople who encourage Jesus to keep moving along after he has healed the demoniac, the cleansing of the temple, Palm Sunday, the fevered crowd calling for Barabbas—of the world being unsettled by Jesus. I wonder how much Jesus living and working through us brings about turmoil. Or have we domesticated our faith and our Lord too much? Do people look at us as followers of Christ and say “Who is this?” (hopefully more about the one we follow than about us) And if they do, do we seize the opportunity to speak the name of Jesus and to tell of his life, death and resurrection?

God, bring us into this holiest of weeks. Help us reach out to others and bring them too. You are so different than the world that often we don’t know quite what to do in response. Guide us to be good and faithful and true to you because first and foremost you were good and faithful and true to us in the life and passion of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

e-vo for week of April 6

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed Old Testament lesson for this coming Sunday is the account of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones. It is well paired with the gospel account of the raising of Lazarus.

Where do you connect with these texts?

• Do you feel dead and parched and dusty?
• Are you locked away for fear that a powerful stench might come out were you to dare opening the door in the presence of others?
• Are you grieving for one lost and wishing that God would have intervened in time?
• Are you hoping for a reviving and resurrecting touch this day?
• Are you facing questions with the only honest response being “O Lord God, you know.”?

May these words and this time be a blessing to you wherever these texts strike you.



1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord." 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord."

Ezekiel 37:1-14, NRSV

We all have graves in our lives. We have the places of death that are quite literal as we bring friends and family members to their resting places. The passing of pets can be deeply heart-wrenching as well. As we look into those literal tombs we know it is only a matter of time before our friends and families gather around to say good-bye (literally “God be with ye”) to us. Those graveside moments can give us pause for re-examining our own lives and the trajectory that they follow. We can find ourselves feeling dead and dusty and parched and foul-smelling. Graves and cemeteries and morgues and ICUs can be very hard places to enter. Yet at times we are called to do so. The good news is that God goes with us. Even through death, God goes with us. In fact, God preceded us. That is very good news.

We all have graves in our lives. Some places are quite metaphorically like a grave. We go to places where the life seems gone. We go to places that suck the juices of life right out of our bones. Sometimes places that should be what most sustain us instead drain us and bleed us and desiccate us. We feel empty and spent and dry and hopeless and cut off. We wish that God had intervened before we found ourselves at that place. We hope for life but perceive only death. A little voice inside us says “Can these bones live?” and we can only eke out “O Lord God, you know.”

We all have graves in our lives. God is a God who knows death and isolation and pain and the tomb. God is a God who has come back from the dead. The grave is a mile marker on the journey not the destination. As we encounter graves—real or metaphorical—may be blessed with the hope of Ezekiel’s vision and the hope of Lazarus’ empty tomb and the hope of the empty tomb of Easter. As the old call and reponse sermon says “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!!!”.

God, give us faith to see Sunday’s hope amidst Friday’s despair. Draw us up into the hope of Jesus. Amen.