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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sONfxPCTU0)

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.