Wednesday, March 21, 2012

e-vo for week of March 21

Dearest e-votees-

Faith is a life and death matter. It shapes how we live. It shapes how we die. It shapes how we live again.

The call to follow after Jesus comes in the shape of the cross which is a call to live and a call to die and a call to live again.

May we be blessed as we linger with this Sunday’s appointed gospel text.



20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27 "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—"Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

John 12:20-33, NRSV

One of my favorite lyrics from the group Superchick is from the song “Cross the Line”:

That’s not the secret but I know what is
Everybody dies but not everyone lives

We have been given the gift of life from the hand of our creator. Every breath, every moment, every challenge, every joy and every loving relationship is a manifestation of God’s grace. If we truly understand that we will lean into the fullness and joy that God intended for us in this life. We won’t shrink back but will take in every breath, moment, challenge, joy and loving relationship knowing that God works all things for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose (see Romans 8:28). All of us have moments of squandering the life that God intended for us. There is grace and new starts when we stumble. But God wants us to have life and have it abundantly (see John 10:10). Will we let God bring that to pass in us?

In our gospel text Jesus compares himself to a grain of wheat. As rich and as full and as good as Jesus’ earthly life was it was necessary to yield it so that much fruit would come. Jesus lived life fully but wasn’t clinging so hard to this life that he would miss his calling to engage the cross. We, too, are called to take up our crosses and follow after Jesus. We don’t seek after death nor pain nor shame nor martyrdom. But we don’t shrink back from those things either. As Bonhoeffer said so clearly in the Cost of Discipleship: when God calls us it is a bid to come and die. While it is true that everyone dies, not everyone dies with purpose or with grace or with bearing fruit in mind. Dying doesn’t refer only to end of physical life but letting things be buried that other things might come to fruition. Forgiveness is a form of death that yields life. Humility is a form of death that yields life. Service is a form of death that yields life. Pressing through fears and hesitations and self-doubts is a form of death that yields life. Having faith in spite of lingering and persistent doubts is a death that yields life. And abiding testimonies—through word, action and sometimes a martyr’s demise—are forms of death that yield life. Everybody dies—will we let God show us how to die well? Will we let God use our deaths to bear fruit and life?

Jesus promises that when he is lifted up from the earth that all people will be drawn to him. Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the cross (see John 3:14-15) in order to bring healing. Jesus was lifted up from the earth when the tomb was emptied. Jesus was lifted up from the earth as he ascended. We and all people are drawn to him. Our deaths, metaphorical and literal, are not the ends. There is a deep and abiding resurrection hope that is for us and for all. And that is a message that is worth living. And that is a message worthy of our deaths—deaths of all sorts. And that is a message that will surely bear out and raise us up again.

God, we thank you so much for Jesus’ death that brings deep and abiding fruits into the world and into our lives. Help us follow wherever Jesus leads knowing we never go alone and this promise will last forever. Amen.

ps- If you want to hear “Cross the Line” and see the official video you can at:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

e-vo for week of March 14

Dearest e-votees-

This week’s appointed Old Testament text is the snake with a name—Nehushtan (see 2 Kings 18:4).

May we be blessed as we linger with the story that sets up John 3:16 and following.



4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Numbers 21:4-9, NRSV

This story starts out with malcontents grumbling about God’s faithful and miraculous provision of manna.

They complain against God and against Moses that there is no food (even though God has provided enough manna for everyone every day and a double portion to tide them over on the Sabbath).

They complain against God and against Moses that there is no water even though God, through Moses and Aaron, provided water miraculously from a rock at Meribah. There are even some rabbinic legends that the rock followed them about in the wilderness providing continuous water (1 Corinthians 10:4 perhaps references or refashions those legends).

The Lord responds by sending poisonous serpents which kill many.

The people come to Moses confessing their sin against God and against Moses. They ask Moses to pray to God to take away the servants. Moses prays for the people. The Lord tells Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole.

All who were bit and looked upon the bronze serpent were spared death from the poison of the serpent.

So impressed with the powers of this bronze serpent that the people named it Nehushtan and it became an object of worship (neglecting the prohibition of graven images).

Where are we in this account? Where are all people? Where might we find Adam and Eve?

How many of us are well provided for through God’s faithful and miraculous provision? How many of all people are well-provided for through God’s faithful hand? How well were Adam and Eve set up in Eden?

Yet many of us complain to God that things aren’t the way we want. Many of all people grouch that they don’t have what they want. How easily were Adam and Eve seduced by the poisonous serpent that enticed them to taste the fruit of the forbidden knowledge of good and evil?

We and they complain that we have no food when we have so much more than we need to eat.

We and they complain that we have no drink when we have so much more than we need to drink.

The poisonous grumbling and coveting and maneuvering take their toll. Death comes to us—sometimes quickly and sometimes in fits and starts—yet it comes.

The son of God, the descendant of Adam and Eve, comes to engage the poisons that have set in. He is put up on the cross just as Nehushtan was raised on the pole. Anyone who looks at Christ can be made well. The poison, the death, has lost its sting. That is the good news.

God, stir us to turn our eyes to Jesus—on the cross—and to be made well. Teach us to receive from you with thankfulness and joy rather than grumbling and malcontentedness. Have your way in our lives. Help us point others to look at Jesus and his work on the cross—and live. Amen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

e-vo for week of March 7

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday’s appointed gospel lesson has the dramatic event of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple.

The appointed gospel text is found at the beginning of John. The account follows on the heels of Jesus first miraculous sign—the changing of water to wine at the wedding of Cana. It is interesting to note that this event is one of the very first events in John. Jesus’ disciples associate this event with Psalm 69:9—“Zeal for your house will consume me.”

In the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, (aka the synoptic gospels) it occurs much later (chapters 21, 11 and 19 respectively). In the synoptics Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 are quoted by Jesus in connection with this Temple cleansing event.

What might this powerful moment in the ministry of Jesus say to us today?



13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22, NRSV

The thing about Jesus cleansing the Temple is that the money changers and the animal sellers were providing needed services. Prohibitions against graven images meant that people making offerings had to trade out their Roman money for something without Caesar’s image. In order to sacrifice a dove or a sheep or cattle one needed to have a doves or sheep or cattle. The changing of money and provision of animals weren’t necessarily the problem.

The problem had more to do with where this business was being conducted. Something about the location or the method of execution (sacrificial pun intended) was where things became an issue.

Much of what we do is innocuous if not good and beneficial. The things we choose to do with our time and our resources aren’t particularly objectionable—certainly in the eyes of the world. Perhaps, however, where we do them or when we do them or what is compromised because we do them is problematic. All manner of sports and other extra-curricular activities are great for shaping people, cultivating health, learning loyalty and about being part of a team. If they compromise being part of a faith community or becoming a deeper disciple or disallow other more important opportunities there is an issue. Working and making a living and providing for ourselves and our families are good and noble things. It the pursuit of wealth and security or the love of money run unchecked there is an issue. If tending to our own needs and wants and personal delights makes it that we can’t tend to the needs and wants of others—at least to some degree—there is an issue.

We might say to Jesus “What evidence can you offer for speaking into our lives this way?” Jesus might say “I have the power over death. They destroyed my body and in three days I was raised up. I still have the power over death. Chasing after the more worldly things at the expense of the deeper spiritual truths brings a measure of death into your life. I came that you might have life and have it abundantly. I will do whatever ever it takes: chasing things out of your life with a whip, enduring the scourging of the Romans and descending to the very depths of hell and then rising again to bring life to you. I have chosen you and you are mine. Zeal for the people of God consumes me. I will not let you go.” And what might we say to Jesus in response to that?

God, have your way in our lives. Help us draw near to you in response to you drawing near to us. Help us believe the scripture and the words that Jesus has spoken. Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

e-vo for week of February 29

Dear e-votees-

I hope and pray that your time this far into Lent has been good and blessed and real. May the pretenses that we allow to grow up around ourselves and that we accept from the world fall away in the deep and truthful and abiding presence that is Jesus.



31 Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Mark 8:31-38, NRSV

There are two strands to this gospel lesson that is appointed for Sunday.

One strand has to do with how we respond to Jesus and his words in general.

The other strand has to do with how we respond to these words in particular.

Confessing that Jesus is fully God or claiming that “Jesus is my Lord” or taking on the moniker Christian obligates that one to let Jesus have the final word. When Jesus talks his followers should listen. When Jesus lays out how things are going to be those who are following should says things like “Amen. Now how can I press into that future most faithfully?” Peter shows us, by counter-example, how we are not to be. Or, perhaps, Peter shows us who we know ourselves all too well to be by articulating just what we would if we were in the scene.

Peter isn’t so comfortable with Jesus’ teachings about suffering and rejection and martyrdom. Jesus speaks of it openly. Peter pulls Jesus aside to offer a semi-private word of rebuke. Jesus turns to the disciples and offers a very public counter-rebuke. He labels Peter “Satan” and says that his mind is not on the things of God but on the things of the world. Jesus then goes on to talk of gaining and losing. There is some backwards kingdom math in that we find life and fulfillment and salvation through death and fasting and pressing into that which might kill us. But if we truly lay claim to “Jesus is Lord” than it seems good, wise and prudent to press into this odd kingdom math that he espouses.

The full arc of Peter’s life is that, according to church tradition, when the Romans came for Peter he did not shrink away from martyrdom. What he did, however, was request to be crucified upside down. He didn’t feel that he deserved to die in the same form or posture that Jesus did. The soldiers granted his request and he was dispatched. When you see upside-down crosses in church symbology it is a reference to this martyrdom. Peter wasn’t ashamed of Jesus in the end. Perhaps Peter was ashamed that he didn’t become more like Jesus during his time on this earth but he was not ashamed of Jesus.

Peter forfeited his life in a glorious and faithful fashion. May God so stir us that if we die a martyr’s death tonight or a slow and prolonged phasing out of this life that we might yield our lives, too, in glorious and faithful fashions. May we let our lights so shine before others that they might see our good works and glorify God who is in heaven.

Lord, teach us to live life and face death faithfully and well over cowardly and poorly if we must make that choice. Our days our yours; have your way in us. Amen.