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.