Wednesday, May 30, 2012

e-vo for week of May 30

Dearest e-votees-

May 31 is the day set aside (at least in the Western church calendar) to commemorate the Visitation (when Mary went to visit Elizabeth). This is a feast day that has moved around some. If you want to know some more about how the day came to be where it is on the calendar you can point your browser to:

What seems to be at the core of this day is people seeing God’s promises come to pass in one another’s life and celebrating together. May God stir us to be with one another and celebrate God at work in one another all to the glory of God.



39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.

Luke 1:39-57, NRSV

Both cousins, Mary and Elizabeth, got word from Gabriel (Elizabeth through Zechariah, after the fact, once his tongue was unloosed) that they would receive an unexpected son. Mary would bear Jesus even though she was engaged and had not done the normal things that bring children about. Elizabeth would bear John even though she had been written off as barren. God’s glory would be made known through both of them.

Both women, Mary and Elizabeth, offer up spontaneous exultations and praises. Elizabeth’s words are source material for the “Hail Mary” prayed across the world and across time by countless faithful folks. Mary’s words are collectively referred to as “The Magnificat” and is the source material for some of the most beautiful sacred music. The words of these two blessed women have stirred and encouraged faith in many, many, many people.

How do you respond when good news comes into your life? Or the life of a friend? Or the life of a family member?

Do you visit and spend time and luxuriate in the good news with them? Do you break into song and prayer and exultations? What do you do?

For some, the temptation might be to be envious of the blessings and divine insertions that come into the lives of others…

• Why does she get to have such a beautiful voice and get asked to sing all the time?
• Why do they get the marriage that seems so solid and strong and easy?
• Why does he have a faith that seems absolutely unshakeable?
• Why can’t I be more like her?
• Why can’t I be more like him?
• Why doesn’t God bless me in that way?
• Why doesn’t God bless me as much?
• Why doesn’t God love me as much?

I think some of the best words that have been penned about how God would want things to be comes from the pen of Uncle Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters:

The Enemy** [**read God] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.

Letter XIV (backwards speak, British spellings and masculine pronouns are all from Screwtape’s text)

God wants us to rejoice in the talents and gifts and blessings of one another. Rightly loving ourselves is deeply connected to rightly loving our neighbors. When we are blessed or when others are blessed—even our enemies—it is time to celebrate. Rightly loving ourselves is deeply connected to rightly loving our enemies too. May we see blessings and gifts and talents in one another—including our enemies—more and more readily. And, in so doing, may we grow in giving praise and honor to God.

Dear God, thank you for loving—really loving—us hairless bipeds. Help us grow in discerning blessings and talents and gifts from you and celebrating them. Teach us to sing and pray and exult like Mary and Elizabeth. Stir faith in us through their testimony and use us to stir faith in others—all to your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

e-vo for week of May 23

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday is one of the high holy days of our church year—Pentecost. It is the day when the Holy Spirit was unleashed in an unprecedented way among the believers. Some have rightly called it the birthday of the church.

Blessings on you as the Holy Spirit blows in and through your worship this Sunday.



22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Roman 8:22-27, NRSV

There is nothing quite like waiting for a baby to arrive. Some take to creating an elaborate nursery. Some take to reading everything they can lay their eyes on about good and healthy parenting. Some take to sketching out life trajectories and retirement accounts for the unborn. Some just take to dreaming and hoping and praying. There really is nothing quite like waiting for a baby to arrive.

There is certainly nothing quite like a baby arriving. Not just the visceral moments in the delivery room but also every moment after a birth is infused with a new hope, a new joy and a new responsibility. You can talk about and read about and think about and plan about a birth all you want but until it happens you just can’t fully understand.

Paul uses birth imagery in the passage above talking about the pregnant pause of the church coming to fruition. The Holy Spirit is at work helping us pray and sigh and hope and plan and dream. The Holy Spirit that was unleashed at Pentecost still is blowing through God’s people to this day. God opens up our hearts to belief and our minds to understanding. God opens our mouths for opportunities to witness and our ears to hear the cries of “the least of these”. God brings about new things and renews those people that have lost the hope and the vision we ought to have.

Our lesson for this Sunday from Romans stops just before one of the most profound promises of scripture:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28, NRSV

This does not say that all things that happen to us are caused by God. Way too much pain has been made by carelessly asserting that. What this does say is that no matter what happens God can be at work in it and through it (go Holy Spirit go!!!) and bring good even from the things that seem so very irredeemable. Thanks be to God.

Thanks be to God that the church has been birthed. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and because of that we are too and becoming even more so. Thanks be to God that no matter what comes our way God can work to bring good and life and healing.

This faith life we are living—there is nothing quite like it. Let’s give thanks to God and enjoy the journey knowing God has us and will carry us. Let’s give glory to God by sharing that message in whatever ways it takes to get the good news heard by the world around us.

Holy Spirit, you have born us anew as children of God. Continue to stir and blow and prompt and inspire. Fill our lives with your whimsy. Teach us to discern you more clearly and abide with you more faithfully. Amen.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

e-vo for week of May 17 (Ascension Day)

Dearest e-votees-

Today—Thursday, May 17—is 40 days after Easter this year[counting the partial days as they do in the Bible (on the 3rd day He rose again…, etc.)]. Acts 1:3 says that Jesus gave many convincing proofs and spoke about the kingdom of God. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:6-11 has the account of Jesus’ ascension.

There is another account in the 24th chapter of Luke (printed below).

Both of these ascension accounts are part of the assigned lessons for “The Ascension of our Lord.”

May you be blessed this day and may your spirits be lifted.



44 Then [Jesus] said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Luke 24:44-53, NRSV

Jesus talks about fulfilling the law and the prophets and the psalms. The law and the prophets show up together fairly frequently in the New Testament. This verse 44 is the only time that the psalms is folded into that formula.

Jesus fulfilled the expectations of the law revealed to Moses and tended by Aaron and so many who sought to honor God with lives lived in a holy and reverent fashion.

Jesus fulfilled the promises and the exhortations revealed to Elijah and Daniel and Jonah and Amos and all the so many others who sought to honor God by speaking the truth about God’s hopes and God’s concerns.

Jesus fulfilled the psalms—the songs and the prayers and the exultations—revealed through David and Asaph and Korahites and all the others who sought to communicate with God through song and prayer and worship. Jesus had a deep connection with the Psalms. Bonhoeffer writes this in “The Prayerbook of the Bible: An Introduction to the Psalms”: “If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ.” Part of what the Psalms have to do with Jesus Christ is that he brought them to fulfillment.

Having brought things to fulfillment, it was time for Jesus to go. Knowing this was the last thing he would say to this group of disciples and to us before returning to the place that he left on our behalf he says those things that are most important:

• He came as Messiah and brought salvation through suffering
• He rose victoriously on the 3rd day
• Repentance and forgiveness for all people, beginning in Jerusalem, are found in him
• We are called to be witnesses of these things
• We abide in this call not of our own strength but with power from on high

He left them in a posture of blessing. And they gathered and blessed God.

God, help us bless you this day. Help us bless you in those we encounter—easy to love or not so much—who are fashioned in your image. Help us know the truth of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Help us live as a forgiving and repentant people. Speak your truth through us—with words and without—all in a way that blesses you and the people. Equip us with your power from on high. Thank you for your undeserved love. Help us love others particularly those we might deem as undeserving. Amen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

e-vo for week of May 9

Dearest e-votees-

This weekend we commemorate Mother’s Day. This weekend we linger in the good news of the empty tomb. This week our appointed epistle text reminds us that we are beloved children of God.

May we steep in these rich and poignant moments. May we share them with those who are jaded or maimed or disenfranchised. May God’s will come to bear in our lives.



1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

1 John 5:1-6, NRSV

Three strands of this text jump out from this appointed for this upcoming fifth Sunday of Easter (which also happens to fall on Mother’s Day):

• We are reborn children of God.

• God has commands and expectations that are good for God’s children.

• Blood and water testimony.

We are reborn children of God.

Through baptism and through belief in Jesus we are born as God’s children. The image of God in which we are created is drawn back to God in a loving and saving relationship. We are brought into a loving community that loves not only God (the parent) but also all of God’s children (including us). Part of what assures us and testifies to the world is our love for God. God loves us as a parent. The language in our text is particularly masculine in regards to God but other scriptures also testify to the more feminine aspects of God. Genesis 1:27 talks of us being created male and female in God’s image. Perhaps this weekend, and for all times, we would do well to expand our understanding of God to embrace all aspects of parental love—male and female—and give thanks that God has birthed us into the family through belief in Jesus as Christ.

God has commands and expectations that are good for God’s children.

“Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you.” has never been a winsome argument for me. Asserting (even rightly so) that something is good doesn’t make it less burdensome. Our text asserts that the commandments that God’s lays out for God’s people are not burdensome. I don’t know if this is so. What does seem evident to me after some years both on the inside and on the outside of minding God’s commandments is that they are far less burdensome than what ensues when we choose to disobey. God loves us as a parent. No mother, no father wants ill to come to their children. Part of what assures us and testifies to the world is abiding in God’s commandments. Not only will abiding in God’s commandments relieve burdens on our lives but will also help us to “conquer the world”—whatever that means. It strikes me that we would conquer the world much in the way of Jesus—with sacrificial love, with forgiveness, with a washbasin and a towel, etc., etc. We have seen too many of God’s children slaughtered, jaded, maimed and disenfranchised through our understanding of conquering the world. When Jesus said to forgive our enemies and love those who persecute us that was a commandment. If we love God we will allow this commandment to take deep and abiding root in our lives.

Blood and water testimony.

Jesus came into our world in much the usual way (after the rather miraculous conception). Human births are bloody and watery affairs. Jesus testified to his love for us by becoming one of us as a child. Jesus left this world in a brutally painful way. He died a bloody death on the cross. He undertook a foreboding baptism on our accounts. John 19:34 tells the grisly account of blood and water gushing forth from Jesus’ dead body as a soldier thrust a spear into his corpse. Jesus testified to his love for us by dying for us as a wrongfully condemned man. Jesus sustains us in a sacramental way. He commanded us to go into the world and baptize in water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He commanded us to eat his body and drink his blood in the forms of bread and wine. Jesus testifies to his love for us by continuing to offer water and blood for our sakes and for our salvations. And the Holy Spirit affirms this testimony.

God we thank you that you have brought us into your family. We thank you that you want what is best for us and lead us to be people who abide in your commandments. We thank you that you continue to testify to us about and through the works of Jesus—with water and blood—and shore up that testimony with the Holy Spirit. Continue to Mother us (and Father us) until we fully rest in you. Amen.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

e-vo for week of May 2

Dearest e-votees-

In the appointed gospel text for this coming Sunday Jesus speaks figuratively in the image of a vine bearing fruit. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. For us to bear fruit we must remain attached to him. We just need to remain. It is as plain and simple as that—so why is it so hard sometimes?



1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

John 15:1-8, NRSV

The driving image of Jesus’ teaching is a branch needing to be connected to the vine in order to bear fruit. The underlying message is remaining connected.

Perhaps if Jesus were teaching this to us today he would use something more contemporary such as he is the Wi-Fi access point and we are the wireless devices. The underlying message remains—stay connected.

Look at the verses again paying attention to the word abide:

1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

The New International Version (NIV) translates the same word in Greek as “remain”—the word is meh-no. This is a root of the word “remain” in English. In eight verses this word shows up eight times. The call, the invitation, the expectation, the challenge and the way to living a full a fruitful life is found in remaining in Jesus.

There are three places where Jesus can be consistently found. By remaining in those places we can greatly increase our chance of remaining in Jesus. Fortunately all three of these places can be found in your local congregation. The three places where Jesus is most certainly found are Word, Sacrament and Community.

Word: Luther talks about the Bible being the cradle that holds the Christ child. If we want to encounter Jesus, to understand Jesus, to be more like Jesus we need to spend time in the Word. Arguably this can be done by ourselves. How much richer, however, to draw near others who expound and process scripture perhaps differently than we? We can draw near others who may well make us look at scriptures we might rather leave out of the discussion. We can hear and support each other as we engage these holy words that Jesus came to inhabit and fulfill. When we remain in the Word it helps us remain in Jesus.

Sacrament: Jesus attached great promises of grace by commanding that we take simple elements and use them as he said. In many traditions there are two sacraments—baptism and communion. In some traditions there are more. In either case, we are called to be a sacramental people. As we recall the promises of God, we strive to be faithful to the commands he has given and we grow in being humble enough to receive bread and wine and water. We receive these as intended—as healing and good—we remain in Jesus. As we make room for others at the font and the table we invite them to remain in Jesus too. When we remain in the Sacraments it helps us to remain in Jesus.

Community: Jesus promises that where two or three of us are gathered in his name he is there with us. If we truly believe that each of us bear the image of God (imago dei) than we ought to receive one another as we might receive Jesus himself. When we love others as we would want to be loved we remain in Jesus’ command. When we learn how to love those who are hard to love—though we can see them—it shapes us into people who can love God who can at times be hard to see. What we may lack individually in terms of gifts, ability, stamina and vision we can find in community. As we welcome strangers and seeker and the “least of these” into our places and our ways we may find ourselves welcoming Jesus himself. When we remain in Community it helps us to remain in Jesus.

Bottom line: This part of the country takes a certain pride in individualism. We like finding our own way. We don’t necessarily like words from without shaping our ways. We might not choose to commune in a church but rather commune with nature. We are individuals and we must all walk our own lives and we can shun community and sacramental life if we wish—but we do so at our own peril.

Jesus says that to live a fruitful life we must abide in him. Jesus and the church make a compelling case that this is best done through Word, Sacrament and Community. Let us partake of this communal wisdom and life.

God, teach us to abide in you. Draw us back again and again and again. Teach and inspire us through your Word. Cleanse and sustain us through your Sacraments. Challenge and comfort us through your Community. Help us live into the simple yet hard truth that we need to remain in you in order to truly live the abundant life. Amen.

ps- I don’t usually go past the prayer but my mind is drawn to the book Outliers ( by Malcolm Gladwell. He has a wonderful discussion early on in the book about the 10,000 hour rule (that basically to attain mastery of a craft a la the Beatles or Michael Jordan or Bill Gates) that the requisite time is on the order of 10,000 hours. That would mean that if one’s only experience with church/things of faith were once a week for an hour it would take 192 years (beyond most of our life expectancies) to attain mastery. (whatever attaining mastery in the faith means) Of course, we are called to be about the faith at all times but more particular focus/practice/learning is well facilitated by Word, Sacrament and Community. While I don’t buy the 10,000 hours as a hard and fast law I do think that a large part of abiding/remaining is showing up and being present at and around the activities of the local congregation. This makes the case to me for us to be more thoroughly and regularly involved well beyond the weekly worship opportunities. What think ye?