Tuesday, May 24, 2011

e-vo for week of May 25

Dearest e-votees-

When working with a set of texts for any given Sunday sometimes the preaching possibilities seem scant and elusive. One can abide with all four texts and have so little come to heart and mind. It can be deeply frustrating. Other texts are like trying to drink living waters from a firehose. Multiple sermons gush out with no seeming end in sight. The appointed 1 Peter text for this weekend is much more akin to the firehose.

May we be blessed and may some spiritual thirsts be slaked as we draw near that text this week.



13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

1 Peter 3:13-22, NRSV

We are taking kids to Las Vegas this summer to do mission work. We have taken as our theme verse for the trip 1 Peter 3:15:

but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.

We are invited and called to let Jesus be Lord in our heart—in the seat of our being. This means allowing God to drive from our hearts others things that would take Jesus’ rightful place. This means allowing Jesus to continue to transform our hearts and our ways so that we are drawn more fully into him. Sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts means allowing God to sanctify us—to make us holy. Not talking here about sinning no more. Not talking about walking without stumbling. Talking about letting God help us press more deeply into that place where God has called us. As we do we find hope and peace and joy. When people perceive those things and ask us about them we should be prepared to testify to why we have hope. We do it with gentleness and respect—like one beggar pointing another to food—but we do it. When we get so deeply immersed in Christ we can’t help but share water with the thirsty souls we encounter.

The question is not “Will suffering come our way?”—it will. The question is not “Will I be free from all manifestations of sin and struggle in my life once I start following after Jesus?”—you won’t. The question becomes much more like “When suffering and sin set their fangs into me how will I respond?” Will our suffering be more from becoming more Christlike? When people and circumstances bring us harm will we seek to be faithful even praying for those who have brought pain and suffering? Will we choose the better path of suffering over the more expedient path that is fraught with evil? Will we let the one who was bitten by suffering and sin on the cross show us how to engage those things when they come after us?

We are immersed in Christ in baptism. We are joined to his suffering and death and called to take up our own crosses in baptism. As we draw near baptismal fonts we are reminded by their octagonal shape of the eight who survived the flood in Noah’s time. Noah, the boys and the four wives are the only ones who were saved. God has opened up the ways into the kingdom to so many more than eight. As we are baptized we are saved. As we go through the fiery baptisms of suffering and sin in this life we can testify to that salvation. We can share with gentleness and reverence. We may be maligned and abused and put to shame. We may even be put to death.

The good news is that even though they maligned and abused and shamed and killed our Lord Jesus he couldn’t and wouldn’t stay dead. Because he lives we can live more fully today. Because he lives we know that we too shall live no matter what comes our way. Because he lives even our deaths will not be our end. Thanks be to God.

God we long to be spared from suffering and separation but we know they will come. Give us good hope and faith and courage knowing that Jesus has already done what is required. Use us to testify and give account that others, too, might know the good news of the empty tomb of Easter. Amen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

e-vo for week of May 18

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s appointed psalmody is Psalm 31:1-5; 15-16. The actual psalm is 24 verses long. Perhaps it was shortened for Sunday for brevity’s sake; perhaps some cutting of uncomfortable passages occurred as well. It is given in complete form below. The non-appointed portions of the psalm are bracketed off.




Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.
3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

[6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities,
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.
9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”]

15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

[17 Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt.
19 O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone!
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues.
21 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege.
22 I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all you his saints. The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.]

Psalm 31, NRSV

The psalm begins with David seeking refuge in God. No matter what comes our way in life—good or bad; deserved or unjustly inflicted; in times of sure footing or slipping on shifting sands—God is our rock and our salvation. Our hope and our help are in God. Our times and everything else is found resting in God’s hands. We commend our spirits and our lives and our every moments into God’s love and redemption—we imperil that which we do not entrust to God’s care.

The next section of the psalm is left on the cutting room floor by the pericopists (those who created the lectionary—literally the ones doing the “cutting around”). Perhaps because David takes a little too much solace in the hatred of God towards the idolaters. Perhaps David is too proud. Perhaps because it is a little dour and depressing pondering where David and, by extension, where we fall short, are weak and spent, are set upon and are likened unto death. But the truth is we are like broken vessels. The Holy Spirit has come into us and our earthen vessels have been cracked. Sometimes they are cracked open in preparation of caring for one in the image of God—like the costly ointment slathered on Jesus’ feet. Sometimes they are cracked open through our sin and sin inflicted upon us and the Holy Spirit seems to run out of the vessel, through our hands and then on to who knows where? But our statement of faith, with David, is still “You are my God.” In spite of the rough and tumble ways of life and sin that has taken root God is our God.

The appointed psalm continues with a prayer for deliverance and a request for benediction. It is akin to Jacob wrestling with God not letting go until a blessing is his. As we wrestle with life and death, success and failure, obligation and inspiration, hope and despair, faith and doubt we know that God’s love is steadfast and that God wills that we would all be saved. So we pray and pray and pray again for deliverance and blessing—for us and for those who beset us.

The last portion, which also was excised by the pericopists, again prays from deep places of pain and struggle. There is a prayer for deliverance. There is testimony that God hears the supplications of God’s people. There is an acknowledgment that there is protection from human plots and contentious tongues under God’s shelter. As said so clearly in the Jars of Clay song “Shelter”—in the shelter of each other we will live. How much more so in the shelter of God’s love and grace and peace and mercy do we live?

The truth is this psalm disturbs us and the pericopists because it acknowledges that there really are enemies of us and of God—and the more disturbing truth is that we can walk as enemies of ourselves, our brothers and sisters and even God. The psalm cuts because it betrays our divided hearts, our slanderous tongues, our impure motives and our harmful ways. Thanks be to God that God sees us even more clearly than we do ourselves and loves us with an unrelenting and redeeming love. We dwell in the shelter of a loving God—our times are in God’s hands.

God, teach us to be loving to enemies, to be gracious to those who are not there yet, to care for the unlovely—and let us be gracious enough to let others do that for our sake as well. Amen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

e-vo for week of May 11

Dearest e-votees-

Quick turns of the phrase get traction but sometimes they obscure a deeper and more nuanced conversation.

How often do you hear “Well, everyone has their cross to bear.” after someone has been discussing an illness or a struggle or a challenge in their life? Are all painful things crosses? Just because suffering is hard isn’t sufficient to make it just suffering.

This week we’ll spend some time with the appointed epistle text from 1 Peter.



19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:19-25, NRSV

There are two questions that seem to emerge when we reflect on our own suffering or that of others—why and how. We want to know something about the cause of the suffering. We want to know the details of the suffering and how it was endured.

The first question—“Why?”—is the fodder for many a conversation. When Job’s life took a decided turn for the worse his friends showed up asking what he had done to deserve such suffering—they were asking “Why?” When Jesus and his disciples come across a blind man they asked who sinned that this man was born blind—he or his parents?—they were asking “Why?” When tragedies like 9-11 or tsunamis or devastating earthquakes or AIDS epidemics occur—some people speak with entirely too much authority about God’s purposes and judgments—they are presumptuously speaking answers into the “Why?” question.

The truth is that sometimes we merit suffering that comes our way. Sometimes life knocks us around because we picked a fight with something bigger and stronger and faster than us. Sometimes the things that rain down on us were certainly predictable if not downright provoked. But other times things just happen. Maybe God willed it for a greater purpose and maybe God opted to let things run their natural courses. There is not always a clear cause or responsible party for the things that come into our lives. As much as we want a clear and defensible answer to our “Why?”s we often get a stark “Because.” or a more reflective “Why not?” and so often we just get lonely silence. Just because we ask the “Why?” doesn’t mean we will get a satisfactory answer or even that we will get an answer at all.

One verse that has often brought comfort to me (and I’m sure countless others) is Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

This verse doesn’t presume the answer to “Why?” looking back but offers hope to the “How?” as we press forward.

“How will this suffering play out?” Jesus reminds us to take each day as it comes remembering that each day has worries enough.

“How will I get through this?” Jesus responds to the penitent thief on the cross “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. God’s kingdom is coming to bear every day—we pray for as much whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer. God has not left us nor abandoned us—God is with us even through the valley of the shadow of death.

“How will I face these people after what I’ve done and what they know about me?” God reminds us “Behold, I make all things new.” and “My mercies are new every morning”. God’s mercy and grace and salvation trump even the gravest missteps.

“How can we be saved?” As the serpent was lifted up in the desert so, too, was the Son of Man lifted up. In the midst of deserved consequences and a death sentence being executed God provides a way for those to be saved. Salvation is here for us all. None of us have erred so far as to be beyond the loving grasp of God’s grace.

“How can I bear this burden—cross or not—with dignity and character and grace?” We can look to the author of salvation who found ways to pray for his persecutors, reach out to those under the same sentence, mend and establish relationships in the midst of having his own severed and who leaned heavily on prayer and grace and restraint. Jesus who is faithful and true and abiding gave us an example of how to suffer.

God, spare us from suffering—deserved and undeserved—and help us alleviate the suffering of others—deserved and undeserved. Help us yield the “Why?”s to you and deeply lean into growing into the “How?”s through your help and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

e-vo for week of May 4

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is the third Sunday of Easter. The world has long since moved on from whatever acknowledgment of Easter they might muster but we linger in the good news of the empty tomb.

Our appointed gospel text from Luke has Jesus making an appearance and offering proof that he has indeed been raised from the dead. Our appointed epistle text from Acts, our focus for this week, has Peter giving testimony about this same crucified and risen Jesus just after the Holy Spirit came with great power during the festival of Pentecost.

May our lives continue to be profoundly transformed and our testimony emboldened as the Holy Spirit continues to bring the good news of Jesus to bear on this world.



14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say

36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Acts 2:14, 36-41, NRSV (assigned reading is 14a but I can’t discern where “a” ends and where “b” begins so you get some extra scripture this week.)

When Peter was speaking this testimony it was to those who had gathered for the festival of Pentecost. He was addressing a Jewish crowd. He addresses the men who were present. The good news of Jesus transcends the particulars of this testimony on this given day. Peter, in the 10th chapter of Acts, is instrumental in opening up the gospel to the Gentiles with his three-fold vision of a sheet of animals being lowered and being commanded to eat clean and unclean animals. Peter came to understand that the gospel was not restricted to the Jews but was open to Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian cohort. Surely the good news of Peter’s testimony wasn’t meant to be restricted to only the men within earshot. The fact that this powerful message (of which we are only seeing a snippet in our lectionary) was preserved by the Holy Spirit and included in our canon of scripture expands the audience who can drink in the good news of this Jesus was crucified and would not stay dead.

Peter points an accusing finger at those present as the ones who crucified Jesus. This has spun out badly throughout history. The bad news of who is culpable for putting Jesus on the cross transcends the particulars of this testimony on this given day as well. Perhaps the most compelling part of the Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is that it is Mel Gibson who nails Jesus to the cross. The Romans certainly were culpable in Jesus’ death on the cross. Those who sin are culpable for Jesus’ death on the cross. Those who hear the message of Peter and are cut to the heart demonstrate a connection to putting Jesus on the cross. The good news of the gospel only brings good news to those who are part of the bad news of Good Friday—those whom sin so easily entangles and hope so easily fades away.

Those present respond with asking “What should we do?” They ask that question for those of us who were folded into the good news but weren’t there to ask the question. We ask too “What are we to do in response to this crucified Lord who won’t stay dead?” We are to repent (to turn around, to turn back to God, to allow our courses to be redirected). We are to be baptized (if we have not been washed already) which is what Peter did to Cornelius and his household which attaches us to the death on the cross and the risen Lord who won’t stay dead—and brings forgiveness of sins. We are to receive the Holy Spirit which stirs up faith and powerful testimonies and changed lives.

This promise of good news was for those in earshot, for their families and for those far away (for us and for those who have yet to hear). Everyone who hears this good news is invited and welcomed to receive the promise. Jesus sends his disciples to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Equipped with the Holy Spirit the early church faithfully carried the good news to us. Now we have the joy, privilege and responsibility of continuing to carry that good news to those in earshot, to our families, to those at work, to those far away and to those even at the ends of the earth—thanks be to God.

Dear God, help us to welcome your message. Help us be steeped in your good news, our baptism and your Holy Spirit. Save us from this corrupt generation and send us as heralds of your saving grace. Amen.