Thursday, October 25, 2012

e-vo for week of October 24

Dearest e-votees-

Please pardon the break in devotional continuity. Last week was a little crazy what with ending a call, getting ready to start a new call and moving all of the truckworthy items into storage or my soon-to-be new home. I am now getting settled into my new office and will be preaching regularly from the lectionary—woo hoo!!!



31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8:31-36, NRSV

One of the powers of music is in its ability to come flooding back into one’s mind with tune, lyrics and associated memories with the smallest of provocations. Whenever I hear the words of Jesus in this Sunday’s appointed gospel text I am drawn to the song by Stephen Curtis Chapman: Free. And obviously whenever I hear the song I am drawn back to this gospel text.
(live concert song clip, Detroit, 9-19-10)

Jesus came into the world to rescue us. Jesus came to speak a word into our lives. Jesus came to be the Word in our world and in our lives. He invites us to follow after him as disciples. As we grow into the words and ways of Jesus we are made free.

Our human reaction is so often one of disdain: I’m not a prisoner! I’m not a slave! I don’t need your stinking freedom.

Jesus speaks truth saying that everyone who commits a sin (that would be everyone) is a slave to sin (or “in bondage to sin” as we used to so regularly confess). And we cannot free ourselves. So Jesus comes into our world and into our lives bearing freedom. Jesus makes us free indeed.

It may be the case that we still must dwell in prisons of our own making or our own deserving. The prisoner in the song doesn’t walk out with Stephen Curtis Chapman. Some of our tragic choices and irrevocable failures will have some sway on us until we die. Jesus’ gift of freedom is not some sort of magical “Get out of jail free” card that wipes away all pain, suffering and consequence. But our hearts and lives are shaped so that we can sing of freedom while we wait for Jesus’ promises to bring their full and glorious consequence.

At the tail end of the video Stephen Curtis Chapman asks if there is anyone who can say that Jesus has set them free. Can you say that? I can. I hope and pray you can too—all to God’s glory.

God, as we gather for worship this Sunday for Reformation Sunday help us rest in the glorious freedom that you have won for us. Re-form our hearts, minds and souls that we might truly live into the freedom only you can give us. And give us songs to sing that all who might need to hear (that would be everyone) would. Amen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

e-vo for week of October 10

Dear e-votees-

I’ve always been struck by churches with names like “First Lutheran Church” or “Third Baptist Church” .  Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things when in the pecking order the church got established?  It seems to me like the better measures of a church would be:  Are the people growing in their faith?  Is the gospel preached well and in a compelling fashion to those who hear?  Are lives within and without the congregation being positively affected?  Are disciples being challenged and shaped?  Are the lonely and grieving and cutoff being brought into community?

For years I have been tempted to start a mission plant congregation somewhere and call it Last Lutheran church.  It would provoke conversation.  It would be easy to find as there are probably much fewer “Last Lutheran”s as compared to “First Lutheran”s.  More importantly it would in a playful way keep our eyes fixed on the assigned gospel text for this weekend:  Mark 10:17-31.

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.  This is 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.




17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10:17-31, NRSV

We fall prey to the desire to justify ourselves and our ways.  The man in our gospel runs up and asks what is required of him to enter eternal life.  Jesus reminds him of the need to live by the commandments.  It is interesting to note that Jesus only makes mention of commandments from the second table of the law—the commandments that pertain to relationships between people.  The man asserts that he has kept all of these commandments since his youth.  Jesus looks at him, loves him and challenges him—one more thing is required:  sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.  This was enough to turn back the zeal of the wealthy man.

Jesus then says to those who might hear how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.  This ought to catch our ears.  From what I know of who reads these e-vos we are a pretty wealthy lot.  We have possessions and comforts that were unimaginable to many just  a few decades ago.   Many of us carry around devices of remarkable ability and convenience with us throughout the day.  While much of the world subsists on $1-$2 / day some of us spend large multiples of that on our existence, our comfort and our entertainment.  Jesus could easily look at us, love us and give us the same challenge—to sell all we have and give it away to free us up to follow after Jesus.

Or perhaps Jesus would call something else out of our lives.  I don’t believe the point was that Jesus doesn’t want anyone to have anything ever.  The point was that for this person there was a stumbling block found in his wealth and possessions.  What is our wealth?  What is our possessions?  What is our stumbling block?  What is the one thing in our lives that Jesus might ask for that would cause us to shrink back saying “No, Jesus, anything but that.  I couldn’t possibly give that up—not even for you.”  The thing is that Jesus wants our whole hearts.  Anything that gets between us and Jesus is fair game to be called out.

Rather than falling prey we should fall and pray—“Jesus, what do you want from me?  Please help me give that to you.”

The truth is that even when you do give up all to follow after Jesus there are still challenges and struggles and persecutions.  Jesus calls us to take up a cross.  That can be a lonely, hard and painful place sometimes.

What we know is that what the world puts as first and foremost importance—wealth, popularity, influence, appearance, fame, respect, power, safety, comfort, etc., etc.—can be diametrically opposed to the things of the kingdom of God.  In truth we can often find Jesus more clearly in the things the world puts as last and leastmost importance—poor, disenfranchised, cutoff, imprisoned, hungry, maimed, weak, hurting, etc., etc.

We don’t earn salvation.  We don’t earn eternal life.  As Jesus said, “For mortals it is impossible,…”  We cannot do what is required.  But Jesus did what we could not—“for God all things are possible.”  Jesus took up the cross, Jesus looked down at all of creation (including us) and loved all of creation (including us) and said with his very life “I love you.”  This is the deep and abiding truth of John 3:16.  We have been granted eternal life.  It is our joy and privilege to take up our cross and follow after Jesus not even caring where we are in the world—first, last or anywhere in between.

God, we have been blessed with so much.  Help us loosen our grip so that you can use those things, which are yours anyway, in whatever way you should choose.  God we cower behind things afraid of the truth that you want our whole selves—take whatever you want, it is yours anyway.  We shy away from the call to take up our cross.  Give us strength and courage to love like you did no matter the cost.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

e-vo for week of October 3

Dear e-votees-

Life is meant to be lived in community. God desires us to live into rich and healthy and fulfilling relationships. The assigned texts for this Sunday of the revised common lectionary have themes of relationship between people and relationship between people and God. In all these things we do no better than to look to Jesus for examples of how to do this well.

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.



18 Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 2:18-24, NRSV

It is not good for us to be alone.

Yet, we live in a culture that glorifies the strong, silent, self-sufficient types: think Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino or many of his roles in westerns, think most of the incarnations of James Bond, think Mad Max or Dirty Harry or most of John Wayne’s characters. The model is held up that we should be able to do it all by ourselves, without help, without partners, without support, without desiring things to be different. So many of us shun help. We distrust motives of those getting too close. We work like it all depends on us and drive up stress and heart attacks and depression and loneliness. We have bought into the lie.

And the Lord God looks at us and again says “It is not good for humanity to be alone”. Jesus came to make community with the lonely, the broken, the outcast, the self-righteous, the wealthy, the maimed, the seemingly in perfect health and everyone else—the world in all its forms and characters. He came to bring help and to be a partner. He came to give company and solace and support and encouragement. He came to show us the need for the cross and then to take his place on the cross in our stead. Jesus became bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh. So we are called to leave the broken ways in which the world tries to raise us and to become one with Jesus. That was his lingering prayer for us all in John 17.

There are all sorts of images of brides, bridegrooms, weddings and feasts in the Bible that show us some of the aspects of God’s coming and already kingdom. Mostly, I think, we can take comfort that God seeks the church like husbands and wives seek each other—in supportive love, in healing steadfastness and in ever-increasing joy. To be sure human marriages often miss the mark of the hopeful vows but when we get close there is a holy glimpse of what God is creating in us and for us unto eternity. Thanks be to God.

God, forgive our lonely and solitary ways. We choose safe over good (in the words of Mr. Beaver); we choose stubborn over humble; we choose stoic over sometimes ham-handed loving overtures. Break our stony hearts that we might love one another. Break our stony hearts that we might love you. Bring Jesus’ lingering prayer to bear in our broken ways. Amen.