Wednesday, September 26, 2012

e-vo for week of September 26

Dear e-votees-

This week’s appointed epistle text has much to say about prayer and healing. It seems fitting that we linger with that text. And particularly ponder when prayers seems unanswered and suffering seems beyond what a loving and reasonable God should allow.

A word to RLC members who have been receiving e-vos: As I complete this call at Resurrection on October 14 I will be culling RLC members from the distribution list. October 10 will be the last Wednesday that I will be sending an e-vo to you. It is important to make the cleanest and healthiest break possible when a pastor leaves so that all can move on to the next season to which God is leading them. It has been a joy to serve as one of your pastors. Godspeed as you press into the next steps of your long, storied and faithful journey.



13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20, NRSV

Prayer is real and powerful and efficacious. It is a practice of people who long to follow after God and know God’s heart. It is something Jesus did and taught us to do. It is something that is front and center in a text like this one from James.

Some things to glean from this passage:
• When we suffer prayer is where we should go
• When we are hurting we should call faithful people to gather around for prayer
• Prayer and confession bring about healing
• There is a connection between belief and prayer
• When people who are wandering are welcomed and restored it brings healing and restoration to all

Sometimes when we are hurting and sick and cut off we flee from God. Sometimes we wonder (as did Job’s friends) what was done to cause the affliction. Sometimes we are so ashamed of where we are or of what we have done that we don’t call people at all let alone faithful people to come and pray. Sometimes we pray without confessing. Sometimes we confess without praying. Either way the entire experience is diminished and less likely to bring about wholeness and healing. Sometimes we pay too much attention to our level of belief or lack of belief and not enough attention on the one to whom we are praying. Sometimes we savor judging and excluding those who most need to be welcomed and restored. Sometimes we know that pain of isolation and disdain firsthand.

Prayer is not a cosmic gumball machine where we work the knobs and levers and get what we want, when we want. Lingering in unanswered prayer is also a practice of people who long to follow after God and know God’s heart. It is something Jesus did and shows us how to do. It is something that is alive and kicking in the background of a text like this one from James.

Some questions to ask of a passage such as this:
• Where can we find help as we linger in exquisite pain or in suffering that doesn’t just waft away through prayer? (see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, see Job in his anguish, see King David as his newborn son by Bathsheba lingers and dies, see “Choosing to See”—a book by Mary Beth Chapman about her struggle to walk through the tragic accident that changed her family’s trajectory forever, see many who have lost faith trying to come to terms with suffering in the world, see the mirror on one of your not-so-good days)
• Where can we find safe communities to be real and to be sustained in prayer? How can we craft those safe places for others?
• How can we linger in prayer and petition? How can we linger in confession and absolution? How can we weave these practices together more intimately?
• What is the connection between doubt and prayer?
• How can we, as people of faith, dismantle walls and barriers and practices that repel those most in need of inclusion?

God, bring us back from our wandering—save us from death. Craft loving, prayerful, welcoming, wrestling, faithful, inclusive, open-to-doubting, repentant communities in and around us all. Stir up your truth among us and give us the courage to press into it boldly. Amen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

e-vo for week of September 19

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Friday (September 21) is the day set aside in the church year to commemorate St. Matthew—the gospel writer and disciple. For this week’s devotional moment we’ll lean on the epistle lesson assigned for this day of the church year.



4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Ephesians 2:4-10, NRSV

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us.”

We have been saved. God loved us through death. God loved us even when we were dead. God loved us even though it brought about Jesus’ death. We have been saved. We have been saved by the abundance of God’s mercy. We have been saved by grace—pure gift from God. We can’t do anything to earn God’s love. We can’t do enough wrong to forever spurn God’s love. God loves us. In response, and only in response, can we live into the good works God has prepared for us.

The word for love is agape (uh-gah-pay). It is a love that reflects the qualities of the lover and not so much those of the beloved. God loves because it is in God’s nature to love. We are bestowed with an undeserved love—one which cannot be deterred. God loves us through death. Our mortal and terminal ways cannot kill God’s love. We have been saved. Done, finished, fait accompli—thanks be to God.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which God loves us…

We are loved. God loves us to life. Even though we were once dead, unclean, unsavory, etc., etc., God loves us. We are being loved into our salvations. We are growing daily into a fuller measure of experiencing God’s mercies. We are loved each and every day—pure gift from God. We can’t do anything with God’s persistent love except receive it—and share it. And that, God’s beloved, are the good works that God has prepared for us.

God, you love us through death. You love us to life. Help us love a world that needs a resurrection sort of love. Amen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

e-vo for week of September 12

Dearest e-votees-

Who do people say that you are? How are you known? What are you called? What is the lasting impression that people have? If they had to sum you up in one word what would they choose?

Who do you want to be? How do you want to be known? What would you like to be called? What is the lasting impression you want people to have? If you could choose a word to sum you up which one would you choose?

How about we take a word out for a devotional spin? Let’s go with “LOSER” and see what God might say.



27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he 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 8:27-38, NRSV

I have a shirt like the one in the picture. I’m actually on my second such shirt since I wore the first one out. It comes from a ministry called Youth Enterprise. I picked them both up at the end of service-mission trips with Youthworks! Youth Enterprise is a ministry that teaches urban kids life and business skills with a faith perspective. The youth involved learn things like production, bookkeeping, marketing, shipping, etc., etc. The shirts they sell have one word on the front and an accompanying scripture verse on the back. This particular shirt has Matthew 10:39 -Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. This verse deeply resonates with Mark 10:35 above.

When I wear the shirt people inevitably make comments, raise eyebrows and sometimes engage in conversation. Here is one such exchange:

We were touring the Liberty Bell after serving a week with Youthworks! in Philadelphia. I had on my shirt. The elderly woman behind the counter saw my shirt and said “Oh, you’re not a loser.” I suggested that she might want to read the back. As I turned she said “Oh, you are a loser. But it is the good kind!”

We are called to be losers. We are called to shed the expectations that the world puts on us that kick against God’s superior vision for our lives. We are called to lose ourselves in our baptisms and find ourselves in the empty tomb. We are called to associate with the outcasts, the lepers, the broken, the misfit toys, the unclean and the unsavory—the losers—and count them among our friends, our families and our communities.

There is a movie: Facing the Giants that came out in 2006. If you don’t want the movie spoiled for you, stop reading and we’ll see you next week…

The gist of the movie is that a loser, ragtag coach and his football team are headed nowhere fast. Then, they stumble upon the idea that whether they win or whether they lose they will do everything for the Lord. Sure enough everything turns around: they win the football championship, coach gets a new truck, the coach’s wife who was unable to conceive, etc. etc. Basically they get everything for following after God. This strand of theology has a name—Theology of Glory.

I find it much more intriguing to think about what it means to lose to the glory of God. Clearly the cross of Christ is such a place. Mother Teresa’s life has a loser quality to it. Remember the softball players carrying their opponent around the bases when she injured herself?—clearly that’s losing to the glory of God, especially when you hear their motivation. This strand of theology—losing in order to bring glory to God has a name—Theology of the Cross.

The path that God opens to us may not be one that looks like winning in the world—that’s just fine. The call to the cross of Christ will certainly bring about death—that’s what crosses do. We may well lose things, relationships and places of honor in the world—God will take care of us.

God, help us to cling tenaciously to you and let everything else take its rightful place even if that is in the lost & found bin. Stir us to find our lives in you. Amen.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

e-vo for week of September 5

Dearest e-votees-

The appointed epistle text from James has some pointed words about believers in Christ and the practice of favoritism. The call on all who would call Jesus Christ their Lord to love their neighbor as themselves is lifted up.

Also are the words reminding us that faith, without works, is dead.

May we all faithfully work—having been saved by grace through faith—at loving all neighbors we encounter.



2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

[11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17, NRSV

Have you ever wandered into a community of faith and realize that you have something that the community desperately covets? Perhaps you and your family with small children walk into a graying congregation and are swarmed with enthusiastic greetings and welcomes. Perhaps you are financially well-suited and find a congregation whose stewardship patterns have been lacking. Perhaps the choir director picks out your voice during congregational singing and makes a beeline during coffee hour to tell you all about the vocal music ministries of the congregation. There is a marked difference between celebrating who people are and what they bring to a situation and sharks circling blood in the water. I’ve experienced and inflicted sharklike attention—not good.

James speaks of how we receive people who might come into our assembly.

One approach is seeing in someone something we want. If one comes in wearing gold rings and fine clothes then they may well be wealthy. We would welcome having them participate in our stewardship campaign. They may well be people of influence as well. We would welcome them for the persuasive connections they may have and perhaps as evangelistic envoys. We may well seek to get on the good side of these influential people so that they will be forces for good rather than oppression in our lives. In short, we may go after them for what we think they might offer us.

Another approach is in disdaining those we deem as unsavory. If one comes in wearing dirty clothes then they are most likely poor. We might see them as a drain on our already limited or tapped out benevolent resources. We might question their motives or their characters for showing up with their obvious need. We might well not want others to be offended by the sight or smell or general demeanor of our unwashed guest and invite them to sit in out of the way or undignified spaces. We might seek to constrain or limit the level of participation so that they will not be forces for disruption and dissension in our lives. In short, we might go after them for what we might think they might do to us.

James calls out our tendencies to make distinctions and unduly honor or dishonor those made in the image of God. The call on us is to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we ask questions like “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus talks about folks like Good Samaritans who transgress all sorts of social taboos to offer care with no hope of a reward. When we ask questions like “Where might we experience Jesus when we serve?” Jesus talks about the imprisoned, the sick, the naked, the hungry, the cutoff, the lonely and the disenfranchised. The issue for James wasn’t treating the rich one well—it was treating the poor one less well. The works that James speak of call us to task to be sure to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, warm the cold and otherwise care for those in need.

Micah says it this way:

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8, NRSV

The Lord has told us what works are pleasing: do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. When we engage and confront a world that allows such disparities of wealth and quality of life we find a living faith. When we show kindness to all—particularly to those who may not have obvious rewards to give us for our kindness—we find a living faith. When humbly walk with God and do things like linger with those cutoff, wash the feet of those others would make sit by the feet and seek the image of God in all—particularly in those covered over by the dirt of this world—we find a living faith.

God, stoke a burning, living, vibrant faith in us. Help us love our neighbors as ourselves. Help us grow in being just, kind and humble—all to your glory. Amen.