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.