Tuesday, January 24, 2012

e-vo for week of January 25

Dearest e-votees-

January 25th is the day set aside in the church year to commemorate the “Conversion of Paul”.

Someone who was strong and focused and zealous and hard-working had his life turned upside down. His eyes were blinded that he might see. His profound and faithful works came into a better perspective as grace came to the fore. Church tradition holds that he was beheaded (a “privilege” of his Roman citizenship) during the persecutions of the church. May the testimony, life and martyrdom of Paul speak to us this day.

For our devotional text we will use the appointed gospel text for the “Conversion of Paul”.



[Jesus speaking to some who were speaking about the Temple, context courtesy of verse 5]

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Luke 21:10-19, NRSV

This is a rich a vivid text. I invite you to read it a few times:

• Read it and see which phrase or word or image comes to the fore. What captures your imagination or your attention?

• Read it again being open to a prayer petition that you might be able to lift up over the next several days. You are invited to write that petition down and post it somewhere you will see it during the course of your daily activities.

• Read it one more time looking for where you find yourself in this story today as you read it. What might God say to you this day in this living and breathing and active word? You are invited to write that down and keep it with your prayer petition.

This text was chosen for the “Conversion of Paul” certainly for the resonances with his life: arrests and persecutions, being handed over to prisons and authorities, facing kings and governors, wisdom that seems insurmountable and a martyr’s death. And in spite of it all endurance through faith unto life beyond death.

But this text wasn’t spoken to Paul when first voiced. Jesus was making remarks to those chatting about the Temple. Perhaps they were looking at this massive structure that testified so profoundly to the magnificence and glory of God. Jesus took the conversation to a much more palpable and incarnate experience of the faith. (see John 2:13-22 for an even more palpable and incarnate conversation about the Temple that Jesus brings to bear). Jesus seems to be saying that struggles and troubles are coming. That you can’t bring a message like Jesus is bringing into the world without profoundly provoking the powers that be. There will be severe and violent pushback. Yet in spite of the attacks and the hatred and the violence life is to be had here more than any other place. I wonder how the hearers of these words straight off the lips of Jesus responded to them. Scripture only indicates that the people listened to Jesus. I want to know so much more.

And this text doesn’t stop speaking once it is attached to the “Conversion of Paul”. God’s word is living and active and has things to say to us to this day. Where do you find yourself in this text? As a preacher I have many opportunities to testify. I have been known on occasion to struggle with what to say and how to say it. This text—as well as Luke 12:11-12—assures me that God will be faithful to give words and speak through me. God will never leave me nor forsake me—even when I’m preaching and teaching. What is your take away from this text? I would love to hear back from you if something strikes you. It would be a blessing to catch a glimpse of what God is saying to you this day through this Luke text.

God, we give you thanks for the life, testimony and martyrdom of Saint Paul. Thank you that he was able to rest deeply in your grace and salvation no matter what came his way. Shape us to be more like him in that regard. Speak to us this day with your living and active word. Knock us away from complacency. Bring your grace and salvation to a more palpable and incarnate place in our lives and through our lives—all to your glory. Amen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

e-vo for week of January 18

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday’s Old Testament text is from the book of Jonah. The assigned text is below as well as the pericope bits that were left on the cutting room floor (set off with the square brackets).

I hope that you have been blessed and encouraged this week. I pray you will be even more so after our devotional interaction here.



3 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

[6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8 Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” ]

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Jonah 3:1-5, [6-9], 10, NRSV

It seems to me that something needs to be said about not including vv. 6-9. By excising these verses we lose the reasoning behind the fast and the signs of repentance. When you stop at verse 5 you have the people believing that God will overthrow Nineveh in 40 days. If they were convinced that the calamity was sure to come to pass one might think a different reaction would come from the people—scattering in fear (kind of like Jonah when he fled God’s call) or celebrating the last days (“Eat, drink and be merry for in 40 days we die!”) or something. This repentance in hopes that God might change God’s mind (there’s a linguistic connection between repentance and God’s changing the divine mind) seems less clear with the middle verses removed.

What were those who devised the pericope (literally a “cutting around”—extracting the selected lessons) thinking by striking these verses? Perhaps they thought that a king telling the people to repent was too autocratic or dictatorial for our modern sensibilities. Perhaps they thought that the fast and signs of repentance were diminished if they were mandated. What do you think? Why might have been the reasoning for selecting the lesson as it has been done? I find that when assigned lessons step around excisions I am drawn to the “forbidden” texts.

The leader of the people heard the news (Jonah’s message or about the people fasting and putting on sackcloth—not entirely clear). Was the king codifying what the people had already begun to do?—quite possibly. The king and his nobles decree that all animals shall neither eat nor drink in hopes for a change. And the people and the animals and the king did it. They didn’t scatter in fear. They didn’t squander precious last moments in debauchery. They collected and focused themselves and hoped and trusted and prayed that God would deliver them.

How are things in our lives and in the world around us? Do things seem dire? Is calamity imminent? Is the future uncertain? Perhaps we should do what is required to focus ourselves, our lives and our times on the callings and plans of God. God cares about us who don’t know our right hand from our left (see Jonah 4:11) and about the animals who don’t know their right hooves from their lefts.

God stir us to seek you fervently as if everything that was important depended on it. When we feel put upon help us not flee by foot nor by escapism but rather run to you—our loving Father—who loves to wait at the end of the driveway and run towards us. Amen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

e-vo for week of January 11

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday we enter into the more ordinary times (green is the liturgical color) of the Sundays after the Epiphany. We continue to experience revelations of who God is—Epiphany comes from the Greek επι + φαινω, epi (which can mean “upon”) + fie-no (which can mean “shine”), which literally can mean “shine upon” and figuratively can mean “to reveal or make known”. Epiphany is the season where we linger around God being made known. Made God be made known in us and through us this day.

Pastor Karl


43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 48 Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49 Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50 Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." 51 And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

John 1:43-51, NRSV

Nathanael has some preconceived notions about Nazareth of what good may or may not come from there. It wasn’t until he experienced some encouraging words from Jesus and perhaps evidence of miraculous revelation that he changed his tune.

How about us? Where is Nazareth for us? Where is susceptible to our preconceived notions? Where do we wonder if good news could really come from there? Is it a place? Is it a particular expression of Christianity? Is it someone who doesn’t always practice what he or she preaches? Is it a teen or pre-teen who is claiming to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit? Is it a disciple who promised never to deny Jesus only to do that three times before the morning came? Is it a messy and not-so-very-cool church? ( for the interested reader I would highly commend to you: http://rachelheldevans.com/blessed-are-the-uncool ) Where are the places that draw our skepticism as a source of God’s good news?

Perhaps we need some encouraging words from Jesus.

Perhaps we need some evidence of miraculous revelation.

Jesus says things like:
• “Peace I leave with you.”
• “You did not choose me, I chose you.”
• “They did not choose me, I chose them.”
• “Let the heavy laden and burdened come to me and I will give them rest.”
• “If you ask me I will give you living water.”
• “Don’t call unclean what God has declared clean.”
• “You are my friends.”

Jesus reveals God’s heart and God’s way to us (often miraculously) by:
• Coming as one of us by way of a virgin birth
• Befriending tax-collectors, sinners, lepers, Samaritans, sell-outs, outcasts, hypocrites and us too
• Healing those who were/are sick in mind, body and soul
• Willingly dying a horrific death for the sake of the aforementioned
• Rising from the dead with angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man

Nathanael’s heart was turned to believe and proclaim who Jesus truly was. May our hearts be turned and our words inspired to proclaim who Jesus truly is.

God, stir us to shed our biases against who you would send to reveal yourself to us and the world. Help us learn and live and share your encouraging words. Help us be open to miraculous and more ordinary revelations of who you truly are—in us, in others, through others and through us. Give us courage to speak of you as you provide opportunity. Amen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

e-vo for week of January 4

Dearest e-votees-

This Friday is January 6—The Epiphany of our Lord—which begins the church season of Epiphany. The Sundays of the season are bookended with Baptism of our Lord (January 8) and Transfiguration of our Lord (February 19). The emphasis of the season is God being revealed. May our days and our experiences make God more apparent to us and to all those we encounter.



1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Ephesians 3:1-12, NRSV

Paul’s calling certainly had some challenging aspects—beatings, stoning, confronting and comforting divided and hurting churches, lack of resources, spiritual assaults and the like. Paul spent time in prison, enduring abuse and, as church traditions maintains, being dispatched by beheading at the hands of the Romans. How do you think Paul found the courage and the stamina to face the tedious, brutal and upsetting days that filled up his calendar?

I imagine that Paul had a parchment (or maybe a sheepskin or a scrap left over from his tent-making) that he had carefully inscribed the words above from Ephesians. I can see him reading this to himself when he got up in the morning and the last thing before he extinguished the oil lamp at night. When in prison I could see him hanging this up on the wall next to him. When in front of kings and rulers and tribunals and magistrates I can imagine him reaching into his pocket and feeling the familiar and empowering words that sustained him so often. I can imagine Paul luxuriating in the deep and abiding calling and purpose as articulated in the words above.

These words penned by Paul and the Holy Spirit speak to us too. Maybe we would do well to have them inscribed where we can linger with them. Or, perhaps, we could commit them to memory so they are always accessible. These words speak to us and of us. We are the Gentiles who receive the news of the boundless riches of Christ—thanks be to God. We are called to be part of the church which bears the wisdom of God to the world and its structures of power and authority as well as to the spiritual realms. We are called, with Paul, to be servants of the Gospel. These words of Paul’s are our words too.

We don’t dare enter into such realms of discipleship and service under our own strength and initiation. Jesus grants us access in boldness and confidence to God. God is at work in us and through us being revealed. So as we face our day—whether tedious or brutal or upsetting—God will grant us stamina and courage. As we rub up against powers and authorities and perhaps challenge the status quo God will sustain us and equip us with familiar and empowering words. God calls us and God will equip us to abide in that calling. This is in accordance with the eternal purpose that God has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God, reveal yourself to us in this time of Epiphany. Help us experience you in the world and reveal you to the world. Strengthen us with Word and Sacrament. Draw us daily to your mercies and your graces. Help us never lose sight of the high calling you have put upon us even during the most tedious and brutal and upsetting of days. Amen.