Thursday, December 26, 2013

e-vo for week of Christmas Day

Dearest e-votees-

Merry Christmas!

The world has been leaning into this season, in some form, since prior to Halloween. Now that the presents have come and gone some in the world are leaning into the next big thing--New Year's Eve? Super Bowl? Groundhog's Day? etc., etc.

The truth is that we in the church linger in the good news of Christmas--the light shining into the darkness. And next we move into Epiphany (starting January 6th) where we pay particular attention to what this heavenly light reveals into our broody and shadowy world.

May your time with family and friends, food and drink, song and good cheer continue to be blessed. And may God bathe you in the light that we so desperately need.



1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14, NRSV

The thing about darkness is that we like it. We can hide in darkness--and do things we'd rather others not know about and perhaps can't even bring ourselves to acknowledge. We can lurk in the darkness--the ambiguity found in the gray lets us be sloppy with our actions and our motives. We can go after others in the darkness--setting upon others and ducking accountability as such assaults are much easier to perpetrate in the shadows. The thing about darkness is that sometimes we would gladly choose it over the revealing light.

The thing is that the dark world needs light to be brought to bear. God sent the light in the form and life of Jesus. In baptism we are connected with that renewed life. We are called to bear witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. That is why we quote Matthew 5:16 to baptismal parties: In the same way, light your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. We, like John, are not the light, but we are sent to testify to the light. We have been graced by the true light, which enlightens everyone, which has come into the world.

Because God has come to us, all humanity, and has empowered us to receive Jesus we are made the children of God. We are born initially through the gift of the marvelous creation of God and fleshly impulses. We are reborn, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or a human decision, but by God's will. When we pray "Thy will be done..." we are, in part, praying the would become more realized children of God.

God, the Word, Jesus, has become flesh and lived among us. Jesus still brings grace and salvation to bear on all flesh and continues to live among us. We have been graced to see glimpses of his glory. His glory is full of grace and truth. May all of our days and ways be shaped by that grace and that truth as well.

God, change our dark-loving ways into ones that accept and emit your light. May we bear shiny witness that does little else save bear witness to your salvation. Amen.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

e-vo for week of December 18

Dearest e-votees-

This week we have the foretelling of Jesus birth as spoken in Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bar a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

It is this "God with us" that is our hope. Thanks be to God.



18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25, NRSV

There is very little recorded in Matthew about Mary's carrying of the Christ child. No angelic visitation with Mary, no Mary and Elizabeth interaction, no Magnificat, no angels nor shepherds--all of those are found in Luke. What we have is a promise from God (through Isaiah's writings hundreds of years ago) and the fulfillment of that promise.

Sometimes we allow the story to get so very cluttered. We allow other scriptures, our imaginations, church traditions and intrusions from the world to crowd out the space needed for the Christ child. In truth it is still often the case that there is no room for "God with us". We surround ourselves with so much baggage (literal and figurative) that we put obstructions between ourselves and God.

Some would say we should discard these obstacles and draw near to God. The truth is that we would make yet another obstruction out of our own efforts or our own decision or our own wisdom in being a wise person who seeks him still. When we make it about us drawing near to God we make it into an idol.

The good news is that God made a promise and that God delivered on that promise. God initiated, God delivered and God delivers us still.

You might find yourself blessed (as well as amused) if you check out Retooning the Nativity. The trappings of the season are fine as long as we don't become entrapped in them and separated from God.

God, we thank you that you don't wait for us to seek you but that you insert yourself into our needy and sin-stained world. Help us receive you. Help us all to have a blessed Christmas celebration. Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

e-vo for week of December 11

Dearest e-votees-

John the Baptist is, again, front and center in the gospel lesson for this Sunday.

Will Jesus' words about John accomplish what he intended?



2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 3:1-12, NRSV

Jesus says "And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." Why would we take offense at Jesus? He came to heal the blind, to cure the lame, to cleanse the lepers, to restore hearing, to raise the dead and to bring good news to the poor. How would we take offense at that?

In order to heal one who is deaf and blind there seems to be a need for them to be aware of their perceptive deficits. To restore hearing and sight means that we might need to acknowledge that we can't hear or see so well. Just try to persuade someone who is losing their visual or audio acuity and you will experience the old Adam and the old Eve: "I can hear just fine, why is everybody mumbling?" or "Who turned down the lights?" We don't like having our perceptions challenged.

In order to cure the lame there needs to be some acknowledgment that they aren't walking the right way. We aren't too keen on being told our walk is off.

In order to cure someone who is unclean there needs to be a come-to-Jesus moment where the dirt is laid bare. We aren't so inclined to be shown to be dirty.

To raise the dead involves the death being called out. The parts of us that think we are still alive and well take issue with being called dead. We cling to our so-called life.

To bring good news to the poor may well involve bringing some sobering news to the rich. We don't like having the current distribution of wealth challenged. Status quo is just fine with us.

Bottom line: In order to have our way prepared to receive Jesus we might need to find out how least in the kingdom of heaven are we. The preparing of the soil involves tilling and turning. We take offense when we think we are already there. Or at least not as needy as that one over there (cue up the pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple). Truth is we are as needy as they come. God is coming for us and John helps prepare the way by speaking truth. Will we hear it or will we be too busy taking offense?

God, offend us that we may be made well. Amen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

e-vo for week of December 4

Dearest e-votees-

John the Baptist is front and center in the gospel lesson for this Sunday.

But, by the end of the lesson, John is already shuffling to the back and to the side. (as John says in John 3:30 "He must increase. But I must decrease.")



3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:1-12, NRSV

The task of Advent is to let ourselves be put aside so that the one who is coming--the one who is much more powerful than we, the one whose sandals we are not worthy to carry--can come and take his rightful place front and center. He will come and baptize us and all with the Holy Spirit and fire.

We are waiting for Jesus to come and take his place in the manger. That place isn't front and center. That place is behind and below. God came into the world to bring salvation and the world couldn't be bothered to provide a proper birthing place. If Jesus were to come again into the world as a peasant baby do you think he would be treated much better? If maybe a travelling pair of young parents-to-be showed up on our doorstep would we have room among all of our holiday fixings and rushing abouts? Would our jam-packed days and mile-long to-do lists have any room for God made flesh coming into the world unexpectedly? I suppose we wouldn't be so very different than those who were too full to make room for the one who brings true fullness to the empty places of our lives.

We are waiting for Jesus to come and take his place at the end of time. That place will most definitely be front and center. All will know when Jesus comes again. God will come into the world to usher in the kingdom we pray about so very often. The kingdom will undoubtedly look different than we expect. We so often miss the mark in terms of what God's plans and visions are. There is one way to prepare for this kingdom to arrive. We are to repent. That is, we are to let God turn us around. We have wandered away like sheep. God wants to turn us back. There were presumably sheep with the shepherds at the manger--we are the sheep that are invited to surround Jesus when he comes again. He will be front and center. We will be around and adoring. We will experience what we have been praying for all these many years. Thanks be to God that God's promises are sure and good.

God, help us to wait and to give you your rightful place. Amen.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

e-vo for week of November 27

Dearest e-votees-

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day here in the United States. It is a day we set aside to practice gratitude. It is a chance to reflect on good and salutary things.

There are lectionary texts in the Revised Common Lectionary for Thanksgiving Day. May the words of our appointed epistle text speak to us and lead us to give thanks.



4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9, NRSV

Be joyful always. As we are in the Lord we have reason to have joy. When we remember that the Lord is near we can treat others with gentleness we ourselves would desire. When we remember the Lord is near worries can be let go. Our hopes, dreams and concerns can be raised to a loving God. God's peace can have its way no matter the response to our prayers nor the response time. We can abide in that peace which surpasses all understanding, which can protect our hearts and our minds. God who knows all we need and who loves us more than we could know has called us as children. We are safe and secure and this could and should evidence itself in joy.

Joy is not the same as happiness. Things may cause us to be sad, to grieve, to mourn, to hurt, to rue and to be shaken. Joy transcends these consequences of sin and of living in a wounded and broken world. We can be joyful even when we live out the very real consequences of sin--our own and those of others.

One of the ways to stay centered and grounded is to focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable. When we see those things we ought to turn our gaze intently towards them. Praiseworthy and excellent things ought to occupy our thoughts. Emulating worthwhile examples keeps us move the right way and helps us most fully dwell in the peace God intends for us.

The surest place to find truth, honor, justice, pleasure and one worthy of commendation is in the person of Jesus the Christ. Jesus is most praiseworthy and excellent. Jesus is the supreme worthwhile example. When we ground ourselves in Jesus, or perhaps better yet let God ground us in Jesus, we will know abiding and certain peace.

The Lord is indeed near because God will not forsake us. Worries and troubles of this world pale in comparison to the surpassing brightness and joy found in Jesus. May God's peace be with us all.

God, Thank you. Help us be a thankful people dwelling on that which is pleasing to you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

e-vo for week of November 20

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday is the last one of the church year--Christ the King Sunday.

Our gospel text ends up with our king being lifted up not on a throne but a cross.

This kingdom that is being ushered in defies our expectations. Thanks be to God for that.



33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:33-43, NRSV

In a deep and profound way the coronation of Christ the King is melded together with the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be lifted up just as the serpent Nehustan (the bronze serpent) was lifted up in the desert (see John 3:14). He goes on to say that all who believe in him may have eternal life. People cry "God save the King" (or Queen, depending who is currently occupying the throne.) But God the King cries "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." The King doesn't need our saving. It is in the undeserved death, and a brutal one at that, that we find our salvation. Our praise doesn't echo in royal halls but rather takes the shape of palms and donkeys and "Hosannas" and tearful disbelief on Good Friday. Our King doesn't follow earthly heralds (well, maybe John the Baptist) but follows after angelic messengers proclaiming his birth and his resurrection. This heavenly kingdom looks very different than we would imagine. Thanks be to God for that.

Human understanding and wisdom would brutally put down those that might threaten the kingdom (as the cross so brutally reminds us). Human wielding of power would look like an iron fist and a victorious sword. Jesus' kingdom looks more like hands willingly accepting nails and a healing of one wounded with a sword as his last act before facing the sword. Humans wrongfully treated might snarl and sneer and breathe threats until their dying breath--Jesus prays for forgiveness and offers Paradise to one condemned with him. What might our world look like if those with the guns and the power were inclined to look up to Jesus to see what true power and leadership look like? Jesus' leadership looks like a bowl and towel, kindness and forgiveness, mercy and new chances. Perhaps God would have us be more like that this week--particularly to those who have wrong us.

God, we pray so often for your kingdom to come. Ready us for its arrival. Amen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

e-vo for week of November 13

Dearest e-votees-

Certainly part of our call as followers of Jesus is to let our lights show so others might get a glimpse of God (see Matthew 5:16).

Sometimes that showing comes in the form of giving a verbal showing or testimony.

While true many fear public speaking even more than death (or as Seinfeld put it they would rather be in the box at a funeral than giving the eulogy) God meets us in our fearful places. God promises to speak through us and that we need not fret about what we might say. God's promises are true and secure. Will we lean into them?



5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Luke 20:27-38, NRSV

It is interesting that the NRSV in verse 14 says "So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;" and the NIV says "But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves." which seem different. The Greek actually has a sense of do not premeditate your defense. In other words, don't spend too much time thinking and planning about how you will offer defense--for yourself? for your beliefs? for being associated with Jesus' name?--but rather trust that Jesus will give the words when needed as needed.

When I am preparing sermons I wrestle with the balance between preparing thoroughly and well (full premeditation) as contrasted with trusting in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to give words as needed. It is not the same as going before kings and governors, before synagogues and prisons, but there are some parallels in my mind.

What I have found, however, in my own life is that Jesus is faithful to this promise. When I am called to give testimony (to people, from the pulpit, by the deathbed, in the heat of the moment, when it comes time to post another e-vo) is that God gives me words. Wisdom that seems beyond my own comes to bear from time to time. I can't explain it but I can certainly claim it to be so. For that I am so grateful to God.

God, help us lean hard into your promises--you are faithful. Amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

e-vo for week of November 6

Dearest e-votees-

Yet another reminder in this week's gospel text to not try to entrap Jesus.

We do better to let Jesus enfold us in his grace, mercy and saving work.



27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Luke 20:27-38, NRSV

Some observational bulletpoints:
1. Sadduccees don't not believe in the resurrection (which is why they are sad, you see?!?)
2. Mosaic expectation (see Deuteronomy 25:5-6) or not, I would think brothers 4-7 might have noticed a grim pattern and passed on marrying this woman
3. Eternal marriages are problematic given Jesus' response to this "story problem"
4. "Till death do us part" means just that
5. Trying to catch Jesus through conversational trickery never ends well

There is a promise made by Jesus that he is the Resurrection and the Life. He states this to Martha in John 11:25. As he approaches the corpse of Lazarus Jesus makes this bold statement. Death will not win the day. To God Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are alive. We, too, will be raised. The Sadducees are indeed sadly mistaken. We will be raised not like Lazarus was (which was really more of a resuscitation) only to die again. We, and Lazarus, will be raised when God brings God's promises to fruition. Jesus was the firstborn of the dead--not the lastborn.

Marriage will not persist into the resurrection. We really don't know exactly what we will be like or who we might recognize in the resurrection. Images of family reunions in heaven or fishing for walleye with Uncle Bob in the next life are more of our grieving imaginations at funerals than scripturally based realities. We will be raised with all of those God has called but how we will look, what we will know and who exactly will be recognized remains to be seen. What we do know is that God is good and God will make good on God's promises. That will have to suffice for now.

"Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age" has much more to do with a God who declares us worthy than it does with us living a worthy enough life. Jesus has done what is required to merit resurrection. Easter morning is God's explanation point on Jesus' bold promises. Jesus has laid claim to our lives. Jesus has called the church to be his bride. If any marriage persists into the resurrection it is precisely that one. We are invited to the wedding feast that has no end! Thanks be to God.

God, help us joyfully wait and expect your delivery upon promises beyond our wildest imaginations. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

e-vo for week of October 30

Dearest e-votees-

Please pardon this belated devotion. The gospel for today is the appointed one for All Saints Sunday. This is the time of the church year where we stop and give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us. We commemorate all the saints (not just the officially endorsed ones by the larger church). We are mindful of all that have gone before us showing us the way of the faith. We are confident that God will raise us up with them because God is faithful to God's promises. Peace,


20 Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:20-31, NRSV

One of the definitions of sin is being turned in on oneself. We could call this being centered on self or "me"-o-centric. Much of our problems in life, in relationships, in our ways of trying to serve God in our own power and understanding come from the fundamental flaw of being meocentric.

There is a much better way to align our life, our relationships and certainly how we serve God. It comes in shifting the center of our focus from ourselves to God. It comes from allowing God to recenter ourselves as theocentric as opposed to meocentric.

Questions about what we could give and what we could spend take on a whole different tone when asked from the theocentric alignment.

What does it mean be a saint takes on a whole different feel and significance when we shift from meocentric ("what must I do?", "who must notice and affirm me?", "how do I compare to others?") to theocentric ("what has God declared to be true in baptism?", "how has God empowered me to live as God has called me?", "how does God regard all the saints, including me?")

Many pastors I know greatly prefer to preside over funerals than weddings. In part I think this is because weddings can be so meocentric (our special day, make way for Bridezilla, years of false expectations crammed impossibly tightly into rented clothes and expensive reception halls) rather than funerals which are necessarily theocentric (God's promises, Jesus lingering at Lazarus' grave, resurrection hope, sighs too deep for words to express).

Who gets into heaven or is permitted in our church or will be deemed acceptable to us takes on a very different tone if the circle of welcome is theocentric rather than based around us. God's grace can be likened to a circle. Circles are defined by two things: a center and a radius. I believe we center God's grace around ourselves and make the radius entirely too small. Meocentric grace invites others to measure up to our expectations (some might see Pharisees in this). Theocentric grace looks at who Jesus chose to accept. Our radius is so much smaller than God's. If we will have such conversations in heaven I certainly expect to bump into someone from my past who will greet me with "I certainly didn't expect to see you here!" and I will reply "I was thinking the very same thing." God's grace and mercy are so much more generous than ours. It is good to shed the meocentric and lean hard into the theocentric.

God, recenter our lives on you. Thank for you for declaring us saints and folding us, too, into the great cloud of witnesses. Amen.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

e-vo for week of October 23

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday many churches will be commemorating the beginning of the Reformation. This was a time when some of the uniformity of the church (the stillness, if you will) was called into question bringing about a measure of discord, rancor and clamor.

May God speak to us this day about a lasting peace, a disciplined stillness and a sure foothold in a slippery and, at times, treacherous world.



1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 46, NRSV

When 9-11 happened our local group of Lutheran clergy decided to have a prayer service. Each of the participating pastors were invited to choose and expound upon a Biblical text. Psalm 46 was the text I chose. I was struck by the images of tottering nations and fomenting seas. Bows and spears and shields had appeared on that terrible day to have won. Yet we rested on the hope that the battle was not yet over.

God can bring to an end the implements of war. The terrible injuries we inflict on one another do not have the last say. The clamor of our sin-stained existence cannot drown out the still waters that the Lord who is our shepherd leads us to.

Our temptation is to fight back with larger implements of war. To strike deeper and harder at the ones who injured us. We will drown out the cries and the shouts of our enemies with angry, hate-filled cries of our own. We will make sure to rain down trouble that far exceeds that poured down upon us.

But God's ways are not our own. We are invited into a stillness to know that God is God. We are invited to regard the one who like a sheep was silent going to slaughter. When his followers brandished ear-severing swords and promises to fight to the death he said "no", healed the ear and went obediently to a end of the spear. God has broken the bow. God has been exalted among the nations (but his exaltation looks much more like a serpent dangled out in the desert rather than a conquering emperor).

God is very present help in trouble precisely because Jesus has entered fully into our troubled world. God is in the midst of us and our city. No matter what befalls us, it befell Jesus first. No matter what comes our way it cannot separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

If there is any fear to be had it ought to be the fear of the Lord (reverent awe as much as terror) and that is the beginning of wisdom.

God, draw us to be a God-fearing people. Bring us to places of reverent stillness. You, Lord of hosts, are with us. You, God of Jacob, are our truest and surest refuge. Amen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

e-vo for week of October 16

Dearest e-votees-

1. Many of us aren't as prayerful as we would like to be or think we ought to be.

2. Many of us get discouraged when our prayers seem to go unanswered or are answered contrary to how our wisdom would dictate.

Jesus offers a parable about the importance of praying always and not losing heart. Perhaps this parable is for many of us as well.



1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8, NRSV

First things first, God is not particularly swayed by the frequency or the fervency of our prayers. We don't do prayers as a spiritual onslaught hoping to overwhelm God and get things moving our way by sheer force of will. Jesus teaches clearly that it is good to pray consistently (I believe “without ceasing” is how it is phrased in 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and without being discouraged. But this is not because God is hard of hearing or slow to respond.

The line of reasoning or rhetorical move is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If even A (which is clearly inferior) can manage this how much more will B do even so much more. Perhaps you've heard or said things like "You know, if your three year old brother can keep his room clean, certainly you should be able to as well." Jesus did the same sort of move in Luke 11:11-13:

11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Jesus argues that if this unjust judge who self-admittedly neither cares about God nor people but is willing to grant this nattering woman's request just to keep the peace then how much more will God desire to grant justice to this woman? Justice is coming to this woman and to all through the work, life, death and resurrection of the one telling the parable.

The truly cryptic part of the gospel lesson for this Sunday is verse 8b: And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Jesus has come and will come again to bring justice and mercy to this world. This is decided but the possibility of faith being present or not seems to be still up for determination. What might be done in order to stir faith? Certainly we can't bring about faith through sheer force of will or willing suspension of disbelief. It comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. If we don't have the Holy Spirit to the measure we think we should perhaps we should ask our heavenly Father who gives good gifts to God's children. Perhaps this is some of what we should be praying for always. And since we know God will answer this prayer in the affirmative we don't lose heart. The answered prayer for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit will surely not leave us bankrupt in the faith department.

God, continue to make us your children. We thank you for the good gifts you give us, particularly the Holy Spirit. Stir us to fervent and frequent prayer in response to your great love. Amen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

e-vo for week of October 9

Dearest e-votees-

Jesus, in our gospel text for Sunday, is straddling two worlds. He brings healing and the response of the faithful is to bring worship.



11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:11-19, NRSV

Jesus straddles two ways of being. He is God, divine creator. He is human, one of us. He knows our broken places and our pain and offers healing to those who suffer. He longs to reunite into relationship with the full community of the divine. Jesus brings both his natures to bear in the healing work he does for the world.

We are members of a broken and fallen race. We get sick and die. We mistrust and hoard. We allow pride and position to win the day over humility and gratitude. Our appointed OT text with Namaan the leper reveals our resistance to being healed if it doesn't come on our terms. Our gospel text reveals our resistance to bringing thanks and worship. We are mired in our sinful nature but Jesus comes to liberate and to draw us into the community of the divine.

The ten in our gospel text knew the rules: stay far away, tear your clothes, ring your bell, cry out "Unclean! Unclean!" They seem to have found fellowship with one another even though apparently they weren't all Samaritan and they weren't all Jewish. The fellowship of the broken trumps the petty divisions of those who deem themselves whole. Together this group of misfit men cry out "Jesus, master, have mercy on us!"

Jesus knew the rules: stay far way, don't contaminate yourself with the unclean (the lepers nor the Samaritan). Jesus would have been justified (and ceremonially clean) by passing by without stopping. But Jesus straddles two worlds. Jesus wouldn't let these men stay unclean. He tells them to show themselves to the priest. In their obedience (and in their faith?) they are made clean. God's mercy trumps even God's rules (or those rules purported to be of God).

One of those healed realizes what has happened and returns with praise.

Have we been healed?!? (yes)

Have we been made clean?!? (yes)

Have we been restored into community?!? (yes)

So will we be part of the 10% or the 90%? Will we offer the tithe of our gratitude?

God, you have healed, cleansed and restored into community our diseased, dirty and isolated existences. Give us grace and wisdom to bring you praise. Amen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

e-vo for week of October 2

Dearest e-votees-

There is what we do as Christians.

And there is why we do what we do as Christians.

Our motivations are so very important--perhaps as important as whatever it is we accomplish.



5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Luke 17:5-10, NRSV

There are tasks and projects for us to be about. There are callings on our lives (vocations). There are opportunities to be grasped. There are lives to be touched. There is good newsing (evangelizing) to be done. There is loving (of God and of neighbor) to be brought to bear. If Francis of Assisi was right that we should preach the gospel using words if necessary then we should be about the business of preaching the gospel with actions and, when necessitated, using words.

How that looks in your life and in your setting is something for you and the Holy Spirit (and perhaps some trusted friends) to discern. God has things for you to be about as a Christian. Let us leave that as it is for now.

Why do you do the things you do as a Christian? Is it to merit favor with God? Is it to show the world what a good follower of God you are? Is it to show other believers what a good follower of God you are? Is it in order to garner recognition and appreciation? Is it a way to say "thank you" to God who has restored and saved you? Is it because God has made it clear to you some of the things you ought to be about with your time, your talent and your treasures?

We cannot earn or merit favor with God. What we get from God comes as pure gift. To attempt to earn what God freely gives diminishes the cost and the nature of the gift.

If we are concerned about what others think of us (inside or outside the church) we are chasing after things that are elusive and stained with sin (our efforts and their approval).

If we are working to earn thanks and recognition we have bought into the package the world sells about Who's Who? and trophies for every competitor and class rankings and brass plates with our names inscribed. Trophies and ribbons and rankings are fleeting and as subject to decay as our very bodies. My sermon text for this week is "The Gift of Thankless Service." If we put aside the need for thanks and recognition we are free to focus our attention more fully on the matters at hand. It has been said that it is amazing what we can accomplish when we don't worry about who gets the credit. This is at least as true in spiritual matters as it is in those of the world.

Our lives are an opportunity to say "thank you" to God. If this motivates us to live into the callings God has put on our lives so be it. If we do what we have been told we ought to do then we can respond as Jesus said "We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!" Our motivations that come from a sinful place need to die (along with old Adam or old Eve) so that we can serve in ways that truly say thank you and abide in God's expectations. That is some of what Luther meant as he talked about returning to our baptisms (our spiritual drowning and rebirth) daily.

If we know why we are responding to God's callings than living them out is so much more richly engaged.

God, bring your callings to bear and give us right motivations. Increase our faith and help us do that which we ought. Amen.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

e-vo for week of September 25

Dearest e-votees-

Our gospel text for this coming Sunday tells of a nameless rich man and a poor man, named Lazarus, who lay outside the gate.

Their fates are detailed as a cautionary tale.



19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31, NRSV

Jesus was teaching his disciples (with the Pharisees listening in). This story was for them to hear. The references to father Abraham would have resonated with the people listening. (see John 8:39)

This story must be a rhetorical device rather than an actual picture of the afterlife. It isn't such good news if you can eternally hear the whining of those being tortured in Hades. I would expect the afterlife to be rather oblivious of those who went to a different place.

The rich man wants someone (specifically Lazarus) to go and warn his 5 brothers. Abraham points out that they have the Law and the Prophets to show them the way. The rich man suggests that someone more is required--perhaps someone rising from the dead to deliver the message. Abraham says that won't be sufficient. How telling that when Jesus, the storyteller, rose from the dead there were many who persisted in their unbelief.

The story is this: There is a rich man. This man was dressed well and ate well. He wore expensive clothes and certainly had expensive taste in food as well. Lazarus parked outside this man's home hoping to catch crumbs that might fall from the table (see Mark 7:25-30 and/or Matthew 15:21-28). You couldn't miss someone parked at your gate hoping for a crumb of mercy from you. The contrast of wealth, of power and of lot in life bring to mind the contrasts highlighted in the "Occupy _________" protests. Nameless was much closer to the 1%. Lazarus was certainly among the 99% (and perhaps even among the bottom 1%). When death comes the situations dramatically flip. Lazarus is in Abraham's bosom. Nameless is in a hot place. Nameless still thinks himself to be better than Lazarus. He first asks Lazarus to fetch him a cool drink. When that doesn't work he wants to send Lazarus as an errand boy to warn his brothers. You would think it would go without saying that there is no room service in hell nor no messenger service.

The point of this story of Jesus seems to be at least two-fold.

Fold 1: It matters how we treat others around us. If we live in the lap of luxury while forcing others to lap up dirty puddles things might turn out poorly. The point isn't that we earn or merit heaven. God has always had a soft spot for widows, orphans and aliens. We would do well to care for those for whom God cares. Stepping over a starving indigent as you make your way well-fed into the world is the wrong foot to get started on.

Fold 2: We have all we need of God's self-revelation in the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament). Jesus came to fulfill the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (see Luke 24:44). If the Law and the Prophets aren't enough we have an even more clear depiction of God's heart and desires in Jesus. If that weren't enough (as nameless asserts) we have Jesus risen from the dead. We have no excuses for missing God's desire for us to tend to others in addition to ourselves. In fact, Jesus said that loving God with our whole selves and loving neighbor as ourselves (and Jesus would count Lazarus among our neighbors) is what it means to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

Luther famously said in a note written the day before he died "We are all beggars, this is true." If so, we ought to be looking out for one another a far sight better than nameless did.

God, teach us what you want us to learn from this pointed story of nameless and Lazarus. May we never discover nameless is a cipher for us. Amen.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

e-vo for week of September 18

Dearest e-votees-

Our appointed gospel text for this coming Sunday, the so-called parable of the dishonest manager, is baffling. Nonetheless, God undoubtedly has something in it for us.



16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Luke 16:1-13, NRSV

The gist of this story seems to be about someone making investments in the lives of others with something that didn't belong to him. He used what was not his own to take care of others. It is presumed that this behavior brought about a better existence for him as well. The master commends the manager who had been fired for being shrewd. I imagine the manager having cleaned out his desk and walking out of his cubicle for the last time with his box of personal belongings (photos, nameplate and other chotskies) and having his boss giving him a knowing nod silently communicating "Well played."

Jesus, too, seems to be commending this shrewd manager (otherwise why tell the story?).

Perhaps we, too, could act like the dishonest manager. We could take the things that are at our disposal but truly aren't ours (isn't everything we have--every breath, every morsel of food, every moment of time, every loving relationship on loan to us from God?) and employ those things to take care of others. We can speak kind words. We can break bread. We can invest our moments. We can tend relationships. All of these things could be invested in taking care of neighbors (and be wary of asking "Lord, who is my neighbor?").

By loving neighbor as self we are fulfilling an important part of the Law and the Prophets. If we allow our loving God with all our hearts, souls, strengths and minds to be our motivation so much the better. I presume that when we live in such a way our lives will come to a better plane of existence as well.

God, help us shed our love of money and all the other currencies of this world that we might love you and neighbor more fully. Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

e-vo for week of September 11

Dearest e-votees-

On this day that is so deeply burned into our memories as a nation it is good to remember that we have a God who never forgets us.



1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 14:25-33, NRSV

The parables aren't really about a sheep or a coin. They aren't even so much about what the sheep and the coin represent (that would be sinners and tax collectors which would extend to us were we honest enough to own our fallen nature). These parables are about what the tenacious shepherd and the tenacious woman represent (that would be God).

The religious folks are looking askance at Jesus' dining partners. Jesus brings up these stories about how much humans can pursue livestock and coins. The rhetoric is from the lesser to the greater. If we can doggedly pursue something in our human frames, how much more doggedly can God pursue one that is dear to God? Some have even likened God to a hound of heaven:


Jesus came down into the world to pursue all who would come. He went after those on the fringes who stood off skeptically. Jesus went into the wilderness and lit the lamp and swept the floor diligently. And through his searching and ministering there is much rejoicing in heaven.

These two parables set the stage for the parable of the prodigal. God pursues the errant son running out to greet him. The good news that is for us and for all is that God will never forget us. On a day full of sadness and mourning or when we stray into the wilderness or get lost in the cracks in the darkness or wander off in sin God pursues us.

God, help us stop running and hiding. Bring us home to the party in heaven. Amen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

e-vo for week of September 4

Dearest e-votees-

Jesus lifts up the challenge to the adoring crowds to become more than just traveling companions but rather to be all-in, sold-out, full-on disciples.

It is so interesting that scripture doesn't record anyone's response to this bold call from Jesus. Would you have responded had you been there? If so, what would your response have been?



25 Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

Luke 14:25-33, NRSV

None of us like to look foolish. Doing something publicly and ending poorly can leave quite the impression on the short-sighted one and on the onlookers. When I was on internship I was chanting by myself while carrying in the Christ candle. I was to chant the same line three times singing it higher with each successive repetition. I realized almost immediately that I had started too high with the first line. As I continued my voice cracked and I was painfully aware of having started badly and finishing very much worse.

Wapato prion was built in Multnomah county. It was never used for its intended purposes. Taxpayers shell out $300,000 to $400,000 annually to maintain the prison. Apparently somewhere between the inception and the anticipated use of the facility something went terribly wrong. The facility has become an object of ridicule and scorn.

Becoming a disciple of God is a costly endeavor. It cost God much to restore us on the cross. It costs us much to take up our own crosses and follow after Jesus. How tragic were we to begin the journey of discipleship, without counting the cost, and end up in a bankrupt way long before the end of our journey. We should heed Jesus' words and avoid being like the tower-builder or the king in the gospel lesson appointed for this week or the screeching candle-bearer or the misguided prison builders.

There are two things in these parables: an initial assessment and then the resolution. Such is the way with us. The initial assessment is that we are unable to save ourselves. We are sinful and needy. God, seeing that we cannot free ourselves, came as one of us. Jesus made the costly move to do what we cannot. The initial assessment is that we are redeemable and worthy by the one who fashioned the entirety of creation.

The resolution comes with God beginning work in us and bringing it to completion (see Philippians 1:6). God has counted the cost and God can make and has made a satisfactory payment. If we attempt to finish what God has begun we only serve to make things worse. We draw away from God's mercy and grace and try to make salvation a thing of works and human righteousness. We make God out to be an insufficient Lord and put ourselves back towards the prison from which we have been sprung.

One of the the possessions we need to give up to be Jesus' disciple is any hope of us adding to the salvation that has been bestowed on us.

God, you have called us to be your disciples. Help us never try to add or detract from that high calling. Amen.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

e-vo for week of August 28

Dearest e-votees-

If you could have a dinner party with anyone in the entire history of the world, living or dead, fictional or historical, who would you choose?

Who we choose to sit with and associate with says much about who we are and what we value.



1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14:1, 7-14, NRSV

Starting as early as middle school, if not earlier, it matters where we sit and who sits with us. We find value and acceptance in those who let us sit with them. We find validation in their company. Who we choose to break bread with says much to the rest of the world that looks on. Some of us strive to be at the head table, in the hottest clubs, in the luxury suites at the game, in first class, etc., etc. We may look up to those on the tiers above us and with derision on those around us and below us. Dissatisfaction with our current placement is cultivated. It is like the star-belly sneetches with a vertical component. The ones above have what we want. The ones below have what we wish to slough off.

Jesus' teaching about the wedding feast plays off our desire to sit at the place of honor. Jesus tells us to err on the side of sitting well below where we might deserve. If we do that we will be honored and glorified as we are lifted up to our rightful place. If we err on the side of sitting above where we deserve then we may well be moved downward. Beyond that our "rightful place" may be full at the time in which we are downgraded and we may end up well in the back, in the outer darkness, where there is sadness, isolation and perhaps even weeping and gnashing of teeth. We are called to be humble and let others, particularly God, raise us to where we ought to be.

Jesus came into this world eschewing our social pecking orders. He sat at the lunch table with lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, gluttons, drunkards, Samaritans. He found his home in the island of misfit toys. I daresay that he would even find his place at our table breaking bread with us. Jesus deserved higher but chose lower. He let the world "glorify" him by putting him on the cross (see John, chapter 3). His higher place was one of shame, humiliation, isolation, abandonment and pain. He did this for our sake. He took on punishment that God might raise us in this life and the next. Jesus will never slough us off.

There is a resurrection of the righteous. We will be among those because Jesus has chosen to be righteous when we could not and to complete what God began in our baptisms. In the meantime we would do well to choose more like Jesus did when finding people to break bread with.

God, shape us after Jesus' heart. Help us love more fully as we have been fully loved. Amen.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

e-vo for week of August 21

Dearest e-votees-

This week we are reminded that Jesus and his healing ministry trump narrow interpretations of the law and of the Sabbath.

Thanks be to God for that.



10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17, NRSV

Imagine being hunched over for a week. How difficult would it be to function? To go about your business? To go about your life without people making comments? To be part of community when you are "quite unable to stand up straight" let alone look anyone straight in the eye.

Can you wrap your head around the difficulty you might experience? How about the pain? What about the shame?

Now expand that time to a month.

Now a year.

Now eighteen years.

Now imagine going to worship after enduring this situation for those long, long 18 years. As you arrive you hear that there is an itinerant rabbi attending today. As you come in to take your usual place the visiting rabbi calls out to you. He calls you over and says to you "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." He then touches you and you stand up straight immediately with no difficulty or pain. You are completely cured and you can't help but praise God.

But, rather than rejoice with you the leader of the synagogue seems upset. He berates Jesus for healing, for doing work, on the Sabbath.

Jesus becomes upset as well. Jesus calls out all who are there, not just the leader, calling them hypocrites and points out that they care more for their animals when they thirst than for this "daughter of Abraham" and her 18 long, long years of suffering.

It seems that bringing freedom and healing trumps the strict adherence to the laws and traditions of the religious folks. What freedom and/or healing might you disdain in order to preserve your understanding of God's law? What acts of deliverance might you disdain were they to cross your traditions and forms of worship and reverence?

Who are those who have been suffering a long, long time in our midst? How might we bring the healing and liberating power of the gospel to bear in their lives?

God, help us to hear this gospel text with new ears this Sunday. As we spend time with you during Sabbath help us be ever so mindful of those long-suffering sons and daughters of Abraham in our midst and in our community. Amen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

e-vo for week of August 14

Dearest e-votees-

Rodney King made famous "Can we all just get along?" (see

Jesus says when he comes it will not bring us all to a peaceful coexistence but rather it will bring about division.

Why does Jesus seem to work towards a different goal than the admirable one lifted up by Rodney?



49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Luke 12:49-56, NRSV

Jesus came to earth to undergo a baptism. He is talking about his death on the cross. By his death the stronghold of sin and death will be broken. Through that death and the subsequent resurrection the powers that be will be dislodged by the powers coming to be. The kingdom of God has irreversibly broken into history through the cross and the empty tomb.

Some will be drawn to the good news of salvation through Jesus on the cross. Others will be repulsed but the cross--because it is foolishness or a stumbling block or too simple or too exclusive or too grotesque or for myriad other reasons. The polar separation will separate families. This has been happening ever since Jesus came onto the scene. Jesus came into this world knowing that his coming would manifest itself in division. He speaks that plainly. He knows how to read the appearances of the time.

Jesus' desire is for reconciliation. That is why he speaks of the prodigal son being received back by his father. That is why he speaks of the shepherd leaving the herd to go after the lost sheep. It is why he laments of Jerusalem the city he wished he could gather like a hen gathers her brood but they were unwilling. Jesus longs for reconciliation with the Father through him but he will not coerce it.

The son had to come to a place of destitution and repentance before the Father could welcome him back home. The hard side of free will is that perhaps we can be persistent enough to fully reject God's grace. But Jesus' heart toward us doesn't change. Jesus wants us to get along. But Jesus knows the difference between unrealized desire and reality. He speaks that plainly. He knows how to read the present time.

God continue to draw us under your protective wings. Give us hearts that long to be reconciled to you. Give us feet and mouths and energies to reach out to others that they might be reconciled to you through the good news of Jesus' baptism on the cross. Amen.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

e-vo for week of August 7

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday's appointed gospel text has something to say to those of us who worry, who hoard, who get distracted and who drowse off.



32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Luke 12:32-40, NRSV

I have been known to quibble with the way that the lectionary has partitioned off the readings. This week I want to outright argue. We have the end of one reasonable partitioning of the lessons (Luke 12:22-34) and the beginning of another reasonable partitioning (Luke 12:35-48). Why these sections were fractioned and wedged together escapes me.

The first section sets up why the "little flock" should not be afraid. (cue up Evangelical Lutheran Worship #764 "Have No Fear, Little Flock" or Lutheran Book of Worship #476) Because God has provided and will continue to provide for us we can trust and release and not worry and stop hoarding. Anything we might trust in or cling to or fret about or stash away will rust and mold and decompose. We are, instead, invited to lay up treasures in heaven which are impervious to such decay. The truth is that God has laid us such treasures for us and we simply receive them from the hand of our gracious God. When we do that fear and worry and the concerns of this life dissolve to the background. Our hearts and our treasures will reside safely in God.

The second section is a parable about how we ought to live our lives. Perhaps it stands alone sufficiently. But Peter didn't think so. Peter asks in verse 41 "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?" Jesus' answer in verses 42-47 greatly increase the urgency and the severity of the parable. It is not often Jesus talks about servants being cut to pieces and threatening with numbers of blows that will be inflicted.

The first section seems to be about the business of allaying our fears and worries. The second section seems to be about the business of stoking them up.

How do we read texts with such tensions? Perhaps we read them as a loving parent or older sibling offering words of comfort to one dearly loved. At the same time, because of that dear love, offering words of rebuke and admonition (as Superchick puts it "true friends they stab you in the face"). I don't know. I don't enjoy the second section but that doesn't make it any less true. Knowing that God loves the world and that Jesus came willingly to do what we could not to offer restoration is a good sign. It makes me lean more comfortably into the first section.

God have your way in our lives. Help us rest fully in you. Still let us be watchful and faithful. Bring on the unexpected hour and help us to be ready. Amen.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

e-vo for week of July 31

Dearest e-votees-

It seems like forever since I have written to you after daily devotions through the Bible in 90 Days.

This Sunday's appointed gospel text has something to say to those of us who live in affluent parts of the world and like to dream of the days to come.



13 Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:13-21, NRSV

We receive all sorts of messages from the culture in which we live that fullness of life is directly related to fullness of house, garage and storage locker (fullness of clothing is also suggested in many ways). If we want to consider ourselves successful we best be able to demonstrate that through an abundance of possessions (which often leads to emptiness of wallet and an abundance of debt). Some of the most profoundly contented and happy people I have ever met are living in Haiti. Haiti is by far one of the poorest countries in our hemisphere. Life is hard and possessions are few. Yet people seem to get by with much less than we might deem a fulfilled life. It is said in some third world countries "You people have all the watches but we have all the time." In a like manner it could be said by many "You people have all the stuff but we have all the joy." Why is it we think stuff (and all the attending responsibilities) are such a joy? So many have struck it rich yet still remained in emotional poverty. Will we ever learn?

It is said that if you want to make God laugh then tell God your plans. The rich man is all set for the next years of his life. He presumed years that weren't his to claim. What plans have we made? What intentions do we have for our days? We would do well to remember James 4:13-15. God's will is inextricably and intimately woven into our futures. We don't venture forth alone. We would do well to include God in our plans and include God's plans into our hopes and dreams. God has good plans for us. God leads us into the future. We would do well to be rich toward God by leaning into the future God is leading us into.

God teach us to count our possessions as blessings from you rather than a measure of our deserving or our worth. Help us share our possessions with all those in need. Lead us into the futures you have created for us especially into eternal life with Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day 90 of 90 Devotion

Dearest e-votees-

Day ninety of our cover to cover voyage through the Bible. We have read the Bible. If you want to see the readings for our trip through the Bible for old time's sake you can follow this link:



Day 90 Readings: none (grace day)

So we have completed our journey through the Bible--stem to stern, soda to hock, A to Z, Alpha to Omega, soup to nuts, Dan to Beersheba, etc., etc. We have consumed an enormous amount of history, instruction, law, grace, prophecy, exhortation, etc., etc. We are not the same as when we began.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it years seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:9-11, NIV


For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything that is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV

My hope and prayer is that your life, your faith and your times of devotion will be richer for having invested yourself and your time in this discipline of the Christian faith. Thank you for your efforts and your faithfulness. You may be asking yourself what you might do next. One possibility is to hone in on a part of scripture that caught your attention as you zipped by. Another possibility is that you would join a small group and continue to maintain a discipline of immersing yourself in scripture. You might even go back to stem, soda, A, Alpha, soup and/or Dan and start again. You need not rush through this time. However you invest yourself into scripture you will be availing yourself of God's work and God's purposes. Wise investment.

If you have found this exercise to be good and helpful I would ask of you two requests:

+ Find others who might be open to this discipline and encourage them to do it or, better yet, do it with them.

+ I would love a note or some form of feedback about how this discipline affected or blessed you. It would be nice to have some testimonials to share with others considering this endeavor. You are welcome to send them to

Have a blessed day. e-vos will return to their more regular midweek emphasis focusing on the upcoming Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) texts beginning next week.

God, thank you for this time in your word. Accomplish your purpose in us. Bring your living and active word to bear in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 89 of 90 Devotion

Dearest e-votees-

Day eighty-nine of our cover to cover voyage through the Bible. We have read the Bible. If you want to see the readings for our trip through the Bible for old time's sake you can follow this link:



Day 89 Readings: none (grace day)

We have finished. Well done. It seems only fitting to quote St. Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV

When I ran cross country and track in high school I didn't often find myself at the very front of the pack. Winning wasn't something that I was able to claim. But finishing, yes indeed. I never dropped out of a race. It might have taken a while but I was able to finish the race (and often even to claim I fought the good fight).

We have been on a tear through the pages of scripture. The goal, as evidenced by the name, was to get through the Bible in 90 Days. I took more like 97. I didn't win any races but I finished. Hopefully you did too. If not, keep going. Keep going.

We don't win things by reading scripture, nor by praying properly or often enough, nor by attending the right church or attending often enough. We don't win. The winning took place on a dark Friday long ago. The winning took place through an empty tomb on a joyous Sunday long ago. We don't win. But we are called and invited to follow after the one who conquered sin, death and the devil. We follow after the one who won.

We follow by taking up our own crosses. We follow by singing, prayer, learning and acting. We follow step by step, day by day, mile by mile. Eventually we will receive a crown of righteousness from Jesus. And what shall we do with that crown? Perhaps we can take a cue from the elders in Revelation 4 and cast them at the feet of Jesus. He deserves honor and praise. He fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith. We receive his reward. It is only fitting we return it back to him.

God, thank you for carrying us through your Word and through this life. Help us always give praise to you. Amen.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 88 of 90 Devotion

Dearest e-votees-

Day eighty-eight of our cover to cover voyage through the Bible. We have completed Revelation. (66 down, 0 to go) If you want to see the readings for our trip through the Bible you can follow this link:



Day 88 Readings: Revelation 18:1-22:21

Included in today's reading is the following:

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:17, NIV

The point of these 90 days of reading is to lift up the promises and goodness of God. God says "Come!". Those who hear are invited to echo the call to "Come!"

Our thirsty and parched world is invited to slake their spiritual thirst.

Our own thirsty and parched selves are invited to slake our spiritual thirst.

The gift is offered to us freely but it was not free. It came at great price paid by Jesus. We ought never to forget what it cost (and thereby diminish the cross). We ought never try to supplement the payment (which also would diminish the work on the cross).

When Jesus said "It is finished." he meant just that. The work is done. The reward is ours. God is good. Our thirsty souls need thirst no more. Thanks be to God!!!

God, quench our thirsts. Help our refreshed souls cry out in thanksgiving and joy that all who might would come. Amen.

Day 87 of 90 Devotion

Dearest e-votees-

Day eighty-seven of our cover to cover voyage through the Bible. We have completed Jude. (65 down, 1 to go) If you want to see the readings for our trip through the Bible you can follow this link:



Day 87 Readings: Jude 1-Revelation 17:18

Included in today's reading is the following:

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Jude 20-21, NIV

The exhortation is for the reader to remain in God's love. Where do we find God's love? How do we keep ourselves in it? Perhaps that is like the questions of the Reformation when they were trying to decide what was necessary for church to be acceptable.

Article VII of the Augsburg Confession says:

1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.

2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. (Tappert).

God's love is found in the right and healthy practices of the church: in Word and in Sacrament.

As we linger in God's Holy Word (and not just a 90-day sprint at a time but over a lifetime) we are reminded of the good and faithful promises of a loving God that find their enthusiastic answer in Christ.

As we are baptized into the cross and the empty tomb we are brought into the fullness of God's love. It was for that very love that God sent Jesus to the cross. It was through that very love that God emptied the tomb and attached us to the resurrection promise.

As we come to the holy meal we are reminded that Jesus' body and blood was given for us and for the forgiveness of sin (see Luther's Small Catechism). God's love heals, restores and renews our faith every time we partake of the meal.

Lastly, we find expressions of God's love in the gathering of God's people. Where two or more are gathered in Jesus' name Jesus is there too. When we pray and sing and encourage one another (even when stammering and off-tune and inelegant) God's love is to be found. We continue to gather and all the more as we see the Day approaching (see Hebrews 10:25)

God, keep us in your love. Pour your mercy into our lives again and again even unto eternal life. Amen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 86 of 90 Devotion

Dearest e-votees-

Day eighty-six of our cover to cover voyage through the Bible. We have completed James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John and 3 John. (64 down, 2 to go) If you want to see the readings for our trip through the Bible you can follow this link:



Day 86 Readings: James 3:13-3 John 14

Included in today's reading is our source of confessional liturgy:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10, NIV

There is a world view that wants to regard all people as good through and through. We were perhaps fashioned that way but things have deteriorated. We no longer purely and solely reflect the image of God. The image has gotten scuffed and broken along the way. Our intentions aren't to delight God and to love the rest of humanity with pure affection. We have fallen and we cannot fix ourselves.

All the self-esteem in the world can't cover up sin. Our best intentions are insufficient. Left to our own efforts and understandings we will surely self-destruct.

We are given a way out. When we confess our sins God will forgive. Just as the thief on the cross when we cry "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom" Jesus responds with an invitation into paradise. Jesus kingdom will surely come with finality and resounding triumph at the end. But for now it comes too. Jesus' kingdom entering into this broken world moves us closer to paradise.

Denial of our broken nature makes God a liar and leaves us stuck. Abiding by God's rescue plan sets us free. We are being made free from the bondage to sin. Thanks be to God!!!

God, thank you for speaking hard truths into our broken lives. Help us confess and be made new. Amen.

Day 85 of 90 Devotion

Dearest e-votees-

Day eighty-five of our cover to cover voyage through the Bible. We have completed Hebrews. (58 down, 8 to go) If you want to see the readings for our trip through the Bible you can follow this link:



Day 85 Readings: Hebrews 1:1-James 3:12

Included in today's reading is a marvelous passage that helps me keep other-minded:

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:1-2, NIV

A glossary:

"loving each other as brothers" (in Greek "philo + delphia" literally "love of brother", where the city gets its name)

"to entertain strangers" (in Greek "philo + xenias" literally "love of stranger or alien")

"angels" (in Greek "ahngelohs" literally "messengers")

The message is to love those we know (those in the family) and to love those we don't (those who aren't in the family yet?). Perhaps it is to love others period regardless if they might become part of the family or not. In so loving all, particularly the alien ones, people have encounters with the messengers of God (think of Abraham with the visitors at the oaks of Mamre and think of the sheep in Matthew 25 who encounter Jesus in every far-flung, cut-off, afflicted person they help).

If we want to know God, love God and hear from God then we ought to be serious about loving those made in God's image (those we know and those we don't). It is too easy, too shallow and too restrictive to love only those who will love us back (Jesus says even the pagans do that in Matthew 5:46-48). If we want to be closer to perfection (as our heavenly Father is perfect) then we need to allow Hebrews 13:1-2 to be brought to bear on our lives.

God, thank you. Help us love and help us hear. Amen.