Wednesday, October 26, 2011

e-vo for week of October 26

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is the one set aside in the church year to commemorate the Reformation. It is a time when we remember God’s word becoming much more readily accessible to the people. It is a time of bold testimony and brutal consequences. So many of us take for granted having scripture in our own language at our fingertips (and on our computer screens). We take for granted the great religious liberties we have. We take for granted the many freedoms granted to us in Christ. Those privileges and freedoms have not always been so and in many parts of the world still aren’t. How might we live into the freedom Christ has won for us this day?



31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. "

John 8:31-36, NRSV

One of the most disturbing comments that sometimes arises as people leave worship service is “Nice sermon pastor, you really told them!” Them?!? Who would that be? When I preach I am talking to all—very much including myself. I hope the words coming from my mouth on behalf of, and I hope and pray inspired by, God are for US. We do that though, don’t we? We hear a sermon and say “Boy, it’s too bad Clem isn’t here today, he really needed to hear that one. “ Or “Once we can post our sermons on-line I’ll be sending links to Eunice, she really needs to get with the program.” Look at the people in our gospel lesson today—“Who us?!? You can’t be talking to us, we’ve never been slaves. We don’t need freedom. Who are you talking to Jesus?!?”

Scripture is for all but we can in many ways only take it in for ourselves. Scripture is living and active dividing down to joint and marrow (see Hebrews 4:12). For scripture to do the appointed work we need to get near it. We need access to it in languages we can read. We need it opened up and proclaimed in words that are accessible to us. Luther and Gutenberg and your pastor(s) and your small group studies and your individual time have all been part of opening scripture to you. You are invited to let it do the work it will without hiding, without ducking, without diverting or flinching.

There is a classic picture on the front of Beyond the Far Side where a bear in the sights of a rifle is pointing to another bear. He is trying to avoid the killing blow. He is much like the parishioners commending the sermon that ought to speak to the other person. God’s words are for us (and of course for others). God’s words have work to do in us. God’s words will convict us of our enslavement to sin, our broken ways and our hopeless future apart from God. God’s words can be killing. But it is a death that leads to life. God’s word will also and most importantly set us free. Jesus, the Son, aka the Word, will set us free. And when we are set free we are free indeed.

Stephen Curtis Chapman’s song “I’m Free” marvelously proclaims John 8:36. You can find a clip at:

The outro of the song is “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed!” over and over again fading out. Amen. May that song be on our dying lips and every day until them.

God, thank you for the bold and powerful work of Luther and the Reformers. Help us draw into the freedom of Christ. Help us not duck your reproofs and judgments but allow them to do their work. Continue to set us free in Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

e-vo for week of October 19

Dearest e-votees-

This week our appointed Old Testament text God gives Israel (and us) some clear clues as to how we ought to live together in community. Interesting stuff particularly with all the politics and activism going on these days. How might God want us to engage those around us who indelibly bear the image of God? How might God want us to react towards those who chafe us and would harm us and seem to be cut off from us?



1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, NRSV

Leviticus 19 is full of resonances with the 10 Commandments. It has many instructions for life as God’s people. Some of the instructions and prohibitions we let slide with our modern sensibilities. Others we hold as eternally-binding mandates. Which fall into each category might vary from person to person. That raises some interesting questions for perhaps another time.

For this week’s appointed text there are six commands:

1. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great; with justice you shall judge your neighbor.

Justice is intended to come regardless of how much money or status or influence our neighbor may have. Bribes and preferential compassion are disallowed. The justice of God’s people is to be blind. People are to be judged on the basis of their character and the merit of their claims not on the contents of their coin purses.

2. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,

We are not to tear down the characters and reputations of other people. We are not to bear false witness. We are not to shade the accounts to our favor at the expense of another. We are to strive to see the image of God in one another. This is a practice honed over a lifetime of diligent efforts. This runs contrary to Old Adam and Old Eve.

3. and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

Our profits should not come at the expense of harming our neighbor—neither literally drawing blood nor figuratively. Our profits should come as the result of honest and fair labor that regards the image of God in the workers and in those we serve. God cares about treating neighbors in ways that are just and fair and good. And God uses the term “neighbor” pretty loosely as evidenced in the story of the Good Samaritan.

4. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;

Our relations with our kin—our family and our community—are not to be evidenced by hatred. Love and compassion are to win the day. And God would probably use the term “kin” pretty loosely too as evidenced by John 3:16.

5. you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.

We don’t get to sit by idly and watch others engage in sin. We are called to be agents of reproof. We are called to engage our neighbors—and to let them engage us—when missteps occur. Getting through life is meant to be so much more than keeping our heads down and hoping the teacher doesn’t call us out. Reproof and rebuke are steps towards repentance and forgiveness—and we need those so very much.

6. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Loving self as neighbor calls us to avoid self-exultation and self-detestation. Loving neighbor as self calls us to avoid overly criticizing or shunning neighbors. Jesus pairs this commandment with the one to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds. Jesus says that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (see Matthew 22:34, part of this week’s gospel lesson). We aren’t to make room and plans for vengeance and grudges. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. This, too, is a practice honed over a lifetime of diligent efforts.

God, have your way in us. Draw us into the ways of your people. Shape us with your justice. Help us lift up and build one another. Help us love kin and neighbor and always work to dismantle barriers that leave others outside of your grace and mercy. Draw us up into the love and grace and mercy and peace of Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

e-vo for week of October 12

Dearest e-votees-

You would think that Jesus’ reputation would have been sufficiently known that people would stop trying to trap him with words and questions.

They never quite seemed to learn. As if somehow they could get away with putting themselves in the place of judging the creator. As if somehow they could take the very place of judging God. As if somehow they might themselves become like God knowing good and evil.

We are so fortunate to live in an enlightened age where we would never be so presumptuous.



15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" 21 They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15-22, NRSV

Does ownership reflect how you treat something? Do you treat things better when they are yours? Do you treat things better when you are borrowing them from someone else? Does it matter to you at all if you know the lender personally or if they are some faceless corporation? The whole notion of stewardship (which is what a lot of churches are talking about at this time of the year) is about how you treat something on loan to you from someone else.

It starts in the sandbox with two kids fighting over the same toy shouting “Mine!”. For some it progresses to vying for the same job or trying to woo the same person or trying to outbid one another at a charitable auction for all to see how generous we really are. We people fight over things. We fight over attention. We fight to be regarded well. We want better and more than others. We want others to notice how much better and how much more we have. Madison Avenue spends much effort selling discontent and upgrading to the next level of ownership.

Candidates and occupying emperors vie for allegiance sometimes subtly and sometimes much more aggressively. They ask for our support and our resources and our faithfulness.

The truth is this: All that this world has to offer is God’s. We don’t own anything—not one possession, not one talent, not one thin dime and not even one of the breaths our God-given lungs have provided today. All we are and all we have and all we could possibly offer is on loan from God.

Does God’s ownership reflect in how we treat things? Do we know the lender personally? What shall we do today with the things that aren’t even ours to begin with?

There is a fabulous quote by Jim Elliot (which you can see in his own hand at which says:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.

This is often read through the lens of Jim Elliot’s eventual martyrdom. How about through the lens of stewardship?

We don’t purchase our salvation with all the things we have on loan from God. But we can grow in understanding that we can hold much less tightly to things that are passing because God is holding so tightly to us. We can give to God what is God’s and not be so very concerned about what the emperor will be requiring. We can loosen our grip on that which we cannot keep and allow God to draw us more fully into God’s good keeping. When we look at our money, our possessions, our family, our career, our time, our _________ we should strive to make sure we remember to see God’s gracious hand and loving intentions. We can let God stir us into how best to engage and release those things that can be so precious and can be so defining and can be so confining.

God, draw us up into you. Help us shun the world’s ways of defining who we are through power, control, possession and achievement. Help us embrace your gracious love, your call to be servants, your example of giving all in the name of love and your humble example of washing feet and pouring out your life for the sake of others. Amen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

e-vo for week of October 5

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed gospel lesson for this week from Matthew 22:1-14 is one of those that is a little tough to follow up with “This is the good news of the Lord.” The lesson involves the parable of the wedding banquet where many are invited who spurn the invitation and kill some of the messengers. When the king finds out about this the people are killed and their city is burned. In the second round of invitations many are ushered into the wedding—both good and evil. One of the folks is found at the party without the appropriate clothes and tossed out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It ends with “many are called but few are chosen.” You should go to church this weekend and see how the preacher works with this rich and challenging text.

For my part in this devotion, however, I will opt for the epistle lesson in Philippians. Paul gives the church at Philippi (and us) the exhortation to rejoice always in the Lord.

May your week be one full of joy and peace and grace.



1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:1-9, NRSV

The writing of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is thought to be near the end of his life. Paul has seen much, lived much, suffered much, endured much—he is soon to be executed. Paul may or may not be happy—that flighty feeling that can dart in like a hummingbird and depart just as quickly. But Paul exudes joy. There is a deep and abiding contentment that oozes throughout Philippians—in spite of his circumstances.

Of course there are all sorts of things that one could choose to focus upon that would certainly chase the happiness away and perhaps even the joy—falsehoods, dishonorable things, unjust things, impure things, displeasing things, condemnable things—and Paul certainly knew of these things. Paul chooses , however, to turn his back to such things and to focus his attention on the exact opposites. And he encourages his beloved sisters and brothers in Christ to do the same. And he encourages us to do the same. If we want to most fully experience the God of peace we will follow after the lifestyles and admonitions of people like Paul.

We are not promised a smooth a trouble-free life as believers. In fact, some would argue we provoke more trouble and persecutions as we press more fully into Christ. Nonetheless there is a peace and a joy and a grace that comes from God that will sustain us. May we be comforted and sustained today and always with those divine blessings.

God, help us turn our eyes to those things which are pleasing to you. Help us care for our brothers and sisters who struggle—use us as agents of peace and grace and you. Draw us more fully into you. Amen.

I can’t read this text without having the song “Philippians 4” from the Spirit Garage ( Band start playing in my mind. You can hear a sample at