Tuesday, July 24, 2012

e-vo for week of July 25

Dearest e-votees-

July 25th is the day that is set aside in the church calendar to commemorate the Apostle James (aka James son of Zebedee aka James the brother of John aka James the Elder). In honor of that event in our church calendar we will look at when James and his brother ask Jesus for the best seats in the house when Jesus comes in his glory (in the Matthew 20:20-28 account it is their mother who does the asking).

One of my favorite authors, Gordon Atkinson (aka RealLivePreacher) wrote a version of this story folding in the demoniac who was healed in Mark 5:1-20. I would commend this version to you as well as it is a wonderfully engaging account. Let the reader beware there is PG-13 language to be had in this version. If you still want to read it you can find it at: James, John and Crazy Joe.

May we blessed as we celebrate the life and testimony of James and take the rightful place that Jesus has prepared for us in the kingdom of God.



35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39 They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Mark 10:35-45, NRSV

There is a call on each and every one of us created in God’s image who have been baptized into life in Jesus--that call is to one of service.

Jesus came and showed us this by pouring his life out on the cross.

Jesus came and showed us this by pouring water in a basin and doing the lowest work that could be found on behalf of those who would abandon him and deny him and betray him.

Jesus came and showed us this by letting a Samaritan woman pour him a drink which allowed her to be empowered and affirmed and engaged breaking all sorts of cultural taboos.

Jesus came and showed us this by letting his cousin John pour water over him and baptize him even though John thought it should be the other way around.

Jesus asks James and John (not the baptizer) if they are able to drink his cup and share in his baptism. They say that they are. Perhaps they weren’t so sure during the trials and throes of Holy Week that soon followed. Perhaps they weren’t so sure during the persecutions of the church. But Jesus was with them. And he never forsook them. And they have taken the places prepared for them--the ones he himself went to prepare (see John 14:1-3). James and John are secure because Jesus made promises on behalf of God. And Jesus fulfills the promises of God.

Perhaps there is a cup that we might like to pass our lips. Perhaps there is a foreboding baptism. We might be wondering if we can put the cup to our lips or be immersed in the baptism that is before us. We might cough out an “I’m able, Lord” or we might just keep a dubious silence. There may be times where we feel persecuted or in over our heads or abandoned. But Jesus will not forsake us. There is a place that is prepared for us too. Jesus went to prepare our place and he will return for us. We are secure because Jesus made promises on behalf of God. And Jesus fulfills the promises of God.

While we wait we can bide our time in service. If we get noticed or not isn’t so important. Whether or where we sit or stand or kneel isn’t so important. If we are in front of the room or in back of the room or serving as a doorkeeper isn’t so important. What is important is that Jesus came and gave his life as a ransom for many—and for one, you. Our place is secure. Jesus poured out his life and invites us through baptism to be poured out with him. Why would we even think of passing up such a life-giving offer?

God, teach us to abide in our baptisms. Let your gracious waters pour into our lives. Pour us out as agents of your grace in the world as we give ourselves to your work, to wash feet, to reach out to the shunned and the cutoff and to enter into your kingdom on your terms—grace, mercy and forgiveness. Amen.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

e-vo for week of July 18

Dearest e-votees-

This coming week I will be in New Orleans with 35,000 some youth and adults for the national ELCA youth gathering. Please pray for all of us for safe travel, open hearts and changed lives.

This is coming out early so that I can be more like Mary and less like Martha in New Orleans.



30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

[skipping over feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water]

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, NRSV

The apostles gathered around Jesus. Jesus invites them to come away to a deserted place to rest. They had been so busy that they hadn’t even had time to be properly fed. So the apostles and Jesus went. But many others also were tired, hungry and needing sustenance. They needed spiritual food. And soon they needed physical food. And the apostles shift from Marys sitting at the feet of Jesus to Marthas trying to take care of all the hungry mouths.

The point of the first part of our lesson is that Jesus regarded the people needing sustenance as sheep without a shepherd so he provided for them both spiritually and physically. Through his teaching they, like Mary at his feet, were sustained.

As Jesus and the apostles go on the move again they are swarmed by all the residents of the region who needed healing. People who were fed and nourished have shared the word and others are flocking to be fed, nourished and healed as well.

We are called to gather around Jesus—whether for a season like the upcoming youth gathering in New Orleans or in regular devotion time or in worship. Jesus invites us to come to a deserted place and rest. We are beckoned to eat our fill. Others may come and their needs might disrupt our scripted meals and programmed quiet time. Jesus’ heart will be drawn to those like sheep without a shepherd—ours should too.

If we, and others, who have had our fill, our healing and our touch from Jesus then we will find ways to give testimony. Word will spread. More will come. Just as we rave about the latest restauarant we have unearthed to all who might hear God wants us to rave about Jesus and about the sustenance we have received from him. When we do God will bless those words. People will come from all places to see if this Jesus we make known is real. May we welcome them as they take their place at the feet Jesus next to us and to Mary.

God, help us hear your call to us today. Help us find quiet place to rest and be sustained. Amen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

e-vo for week of July 11

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed gospel text for this week in the Revised Common Lectionary is Mark’s account of the dispatching of John the Baptist.

For our devotional time this week we will draw from the appointed Psalm text which has some deep connections to the life and ministry of John. We will look at the text verse-by-verse.

At the end of each mini-reflection is a prayer petition that God might have God’s way in our lives.



The verses that did not get included in this week’s psalmody (verses 1-7) are worthy of consideration. I commend them to you. They speak of God’s forgiveness and mercy and are an earnest prayer for God’s mercies and forgiveness to come anew. Not a bad way to start one’s devotion or one’s day.

Psalm 85 (NRSV)

Verse 8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

God has spoken. God will speak. God is speaking. One of our neighboring congregations had “God is still speaking. Don’t put a period where God put a comma.” on their reader board recently. This hearkens back to a 2004 United Church of Christ campaign that was in part inspired by a quote attributed to Gracie Allen “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” The story is that she left that in a note for her husband George Burns who found it after she had passed. What a word of grace to a grieving heart.

God is still speaking. God is speaking a word of peace. God speaks to those who are faithful. God speaks to those of us who struggle to be faithful, too. And God speaks to those of us who flat out fail at being faithful. God will help us turn Godward in our hearts. We will grow in our ability to hear God’s message of peace. God will shape us to be messengers of that peace in a war-weary and embattled world. God can and will use us to help others turn Godward in their hearts. We can offer a word of grace to grieving hearts.

“God speak your words speak into our hearts and from our mouths.”

Verse 9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.

Fear has the connotation of deep respect and awe in addition to senses of terror or dread. God’s glory is an awesome presence. We do well to not engage it lightly or recklessly. Just as the majesty of the ocean can obscure the treacherous undertow God’s majesty can snatch us too. But God snatches us towards a good end. The drowning is not a literal drowning but more akin to the drowning of baptism. We are immersed and submerged in the gracious and cleansing waters. The very same waters John offered to help people prepare for the one coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Salvation is indeed at hand.

“God bring your saving glory to bear in our lives.”

Verse 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Love and faithfulness have met. They came together in the person of God incarnate, Jesus. Jesus came bearing love and redemption for all who would hear. He faithfully bridged the chasm we could not in order to restore us in relationship with God. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other as Jesus and his cousin John’s lives and ministries intersected. John preached righteousness and repentance. Jesus lived righteousness and repentance. Jesus lived into the calling to be Prince of Peace and opened the way for all to find restoration and healing—peace with God. John lived faithfully and true to the point of losing his life rather than compromise his message.

“God beckon us fully into the kingdom of peace and grant us tenacity of faith when persecutions beset us.”

Verse 11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

In the garden God creates humanity from the ground. In restored relationship with God faithfulness is nurtured. We will never be completely faithful. And how faithful we become will never enhance nor threaten our salvation. Our salvation rests secure in our Father in heaven who knows us and loves us. Our salvation rests secure in Jesus who left the Father to show us the full extent of God’s knowledge and love of us. Our salvation story rests secure as the Holy Spirit reminds and inspires the faithful telling of good news to those who have yet to hear and those who have forgotten.

“God draw faithfulness from us and keep your loving and righteous gaze on our days.”

Verse 12 The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Every good gift is from God. Every breath, every morsel of food, every kind and loving relationship, every gift, every ability, every possession—every good gift is from God. God blesses us in so many ways that we do not begin to merit. God gives good gifts to God’s children. When we ask for an egg, God won’t give us a scorpion (see Luke 11:11-13). God is faithful and good. We may well experience blessing and prosperity and abundance from our gracious God. When we do we give thanks for God’s goodness. At other times the blessings won’t be so apparent. The resources may be stretched beyond what seems tolerable. Abundance may seem scarce. Our good and loving and gracious God has not forsaken us. When that happens we give thanks for God’s goodness, too. True faith persists through the droughts and the persecutions and, in John’s case, the beheadings.

“God help us receive well whatever you choose to send our way and give us a steadfast faith regardless of what comes or does not.”

Verse 13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

Righteousness has gone before Jesus. John the Baptist came and lived a life of testimony that was in stark contrast to the world around him. People flocked to him and asked to be baptized by him and changed their ways in response to him. Jesus connects John to Elijah who was to usher in the Lord (see Malachi 4:5). John made a path for Jesus’ steps. John made a path for our steps as well. John’s steely spine and passionate proclamation spoke to the crowds and spoke to Herod and have words for us as well—do we hear? Jesus’ resolute focus towards Jerusalem and passion spoke to the crowds and spoke to Nicodemus and spoke to the Samaritan Woman and can speak to us too—do we hear? There is a path before us. We don’t travel alone. John led the way. Jesus followed and opened up the way for all of us to travel with him.

“God draw us into the journey with you. Help us celebrate and emulate faithful followers such as John who poured themselves out fully for your sake. Amen.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

e-vo for week of July 4

Dearest e-votees-

For this week we’ll take a look at the epistle reading from 2 Corinthians.



2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3 And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10, NRSV

Three strands from this passage from 2 Corinthians:

What the world experiences of us is in our actions and our words

Perhaps the folks at Young Life said it best “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Paul was certainly speaking along the same lines when he wrote:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NRSV

All people are want purpose and meaning in their lives. Often this comes through the lives of others. What makes the others persuasive isn’t their boasting or their great learning or their potent curriculum vitae or any other such qualifications. Paul had all that was required to make a case for himself from personal experience and training. But he got knocked of his high horse. He is now at the point in his journey where he will let what he does and what he says allow people to make their judgments—boasting is excluded. His life is an epistle to those who will read it.

People are looking for people to help them find purpose and meaning. They will experience others through what they see and what they hear. When actions and words have a deep resonance and are done in love then mountains can be moved. God can best speak through us when we let God transform our ways and our words in the world. It’s not about being perfect -- it’s about being people of honesty, integrity and humility.

Prayers that are answered “No.” are still answered prayers

Our lives are to be ones of prayer. We are invited to approach God boldly with the desires of our heart. There are some potent promises about the prayers of the faithful offered in Jesus’ name. Some want to oversell the case that God is inclined to grant the prayer requests lifted up. God is a loving God. God is experienced by what God does and what God says. Part of that love, as any parent knows, is not always giving your child what they want. Sometimes we attach to much meaning to the “yes” or “no” of the response to prayer and not enough meaning to the loving God who is answering our prayers.

Paul wanted this thorn of the flesh removed. And so he prayed. David wanted the sick child born of Bathsheba to be made well. And so he prayed for seven days to that end (2 Samuel 12:15-18). Jesus wanted the cup to pass from his lips in the garden of Gethsemane. And so he prayed with sweat like drops of blood revealing his agony. There are or will be times where we will pray with all we know and believe and feel for a desired outcome. We may sense a dispassionate silence in response. Our senses aren’t always reliable. God will indeed answer our prayers by declining our request at times but it is always much more of a “No, …” “No, my grace is sufficient for you” or “No, the suffering has gone on long enough” or “No, because I know you and love you” or some other reason.

God is not capricious. God does not take joy in our hearts being hurt through answering our prayers with a “No.” God know our feelings and our dreams and our hurts better than we ourselves. God’s intimacy with us allows God to know best and “No.” best. God answers our prayers even when it is not how we had hoped.

God’s grace is sufficient for us.

Our actions and our words won’t always line up well. We aren’t always the people of honesty, integrity and humility that God has called us to be. People may look at us and find anything but a source of purpose and meaning. Grace is here. Grace is now. God’s grace is sufficient for us.

People may not realize the depth of understanding or revelation that has been given to us. People who surround us may seem light years ahead in terms of their journey along the path of faith. We may look at our own lives and wonder what godly difference are we making. Grace is here. Grace is now. God’s grace is sufficient for us.

We may be in a spot like Paul or David or Jesus where we are threatened or hurting or grieving. We may be crying out with all that we have hoping against hope for a divine intervention. We may be hurting from the “No.” that clearly spoke against our hopes. We may feel like crying out with Jesus “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Grace is here. Grace is now. God’s grace is sufficient for us.

You have a whole day ahead of you. You have a life with all its adventures and pitfalls. You have things of which you are painfully aware and things of which you are completely oblivious. You have a cross that Jesus has invited you to carry. You have moments and decisions that will impact your future and cannot always be taken back. Grace is here. Grace is now. God’s grace is sufficient for you.

God, teach us to pray. God, help us to trust particularly when things don’t go as we had hoped. God, form us into a people of grace. Amen.