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:

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_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.