Friday, May 30, 2014

e-vo for week of May 28

Dearest e-votees-

This Thursday (May 29) is the day that the church celebrates Christ's ascension. It is the 40th day after the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus -- Easter. As mentioned in Acts 1:3 below Jesus appeared for 40 days with convincing proofs of his resurrection as well as speaking of the kingdom of God.

It takes some time and some on-going work of God for the reality of the life-changing resurrection to sink in with Jesus' disciples. We are no different.

May we all be open to however God chooses to reveal God's self to us. And may we be open to the requisite time and moving of God to make that revelation take hold in our lives. And may we be open to however God might reveal God's self through our own lives and witness.



1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:1-11, NRSV

We use terms like "gravity of the situation" or "being grounded" as ways of acknowledging the importance of urgent, foundational truths. We might even speak of them with a certain gravitas. These truths can weigh us down, keep us from moving freely and responsively. We might even go a stow ourselves away in a safe place behind locked doors if things weigh on us too heavily. Fears, responsibilities and unwanted conflicts can beat us down into the pit.

But Jesus wouldn't stay in the pit. Jesus rose from the dead--overwhelming the gravity of the Good Friday situation. He came into the locked rooms and the cowering hearts and lingered with his followers for 40 days. He lifted theirs spirits and raised up truths into their ears. As if to punctuate all of this anti-gravitational behavior he ascended out of there sight. In Luke's parallel account in his gospel Jesus is blessing the disciples as he ascends.

The disciples are staring up into heaven. Perhaps they are in awe. Perhaps they are already starting to droop back into fear now that Jesus has left them yet again. Maybe Peter is about to suggest they build some shelters or something. But two visitors interrupt their stunned, upturned, gaping poses. The disciples are directed to go to where Jesus will meet them. They are promised that they will continue to experience Jesus.

Sisters and brothers, we are sent too. Jesus sends us into all the world (Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth) to share the same sorts of truths he did for 40 days after rising from the dead. We don't go alone but Jesus goes in us and before us. In a week we'll be liturgically reminded that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and moves in us as well. We will, of course, at times get weighed down, discouraged and perhaps intimidated by all these things and the challenges of living out the call. We might even find ourselves stunned, gaping upward but we can find encouragement in the words of the two visitors. But the good news is that God has done the work and is doing the work and will lift us when we fall and call us back when we gape. May our spirits be raised and our testimonies too. Amen.

God, continue to reveal yourself to us that you might not be unknown in our lives. Use us to reveal you to the world we inhabit. Amen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

e-vo for week of May 21

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday is Easter 6. We have jumped 10 chapters in Acts from last week's reading and what a difference we see in Paul (our approving coat rack formerly named as Saul in last week's reading).



22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:22-31, NRSV

Karl Barth is quoted as saying you should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Paul had neither the Bible as we know it (he was still in the process of writing his portions) nor did he have a newspaper as we know it (which future generations might soon not have as well). But he did have the truth revealed to him by God (like the Bible) and an understanding of the context of the culture and the current events (like the newspaper).

Paul has an incredibly engaging hook for his message to the Athenians. As he wandered about he found an altar to an unknown god. He saw in the culture a desire to worship but perhaps a lack of clarity as to the best recipient of that worship. Starting from their self-expressed needs and desires he offers them Jesus.

All of us live in a world where people are searching. They desire to attach their worship and allegiance but often have difficulty discerning who or what is reliable and worthy. We can find ways to point people to Jesus as Paul did. We can proclaim the resurrection as Paul did. We can live lives of witness and service as God did. We can trust that God's grace is sufficient for us and that God's power is made perfect in weakness as was revealed to Paul.

We should seek to be students of our culture and allow scripture to shape us. With the Bible in one hand and whatever news conduit in the other and the indwelling Holy Spirit we can give very good news to a world that is longing to hear it.

God, continue to reveal yourself to us that you might not be unknown in our lives. Use us to reveal you to the world we inhabit. Amen.

e-vo for week of May 14

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday is Easter 5. We have the death of Stephen and our earliest introduction in scripture to Saul (aka Paul).



55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Acts 7:55-60, NRSV

Stephen inhabits only two chapters of our scriptures. We meet him in chapter 6 of Acts as he is one of the seven set aside to help administer food distribution to the widows both Jewish (aka Hebrews) and gentile (aka Hellenists, that is Greeks). The apostles say that it is not right for them to neglect the word of God to wait on tables so Stephen and six others are tasked with overseeing and resolving this benevolent feeding program.

Stephen apparently shared the view that it was necessary to tend to the word of God and giving testimony rather than spend all of his time waiting on tables. Stephen does works and signs that draw attention of others (much like Jesus). He has blasphemy charges leveled against him (much like Jesus). He teaches with words, wisdom and authority that cannot be thwarted by his accusers (much like Jesus). Finally his opponents resort to killing him to silence his witness (much like Jesus). In the midst of his death he prays for those who have mortally wounded him (much like Jesus).

Saul (later to become Paul) is clearly staked out as one who is opposed to Stephen and the message he was proclaiming. In the verses immediately following this lesson Saul approves of the killing of Stephen and begins to inflict great persecution on the early church.

Some things for us to ponder:

If we faithfully serve Jesus we might find ourselves in harm's way. May we be faithful should that happen.

The best and most faithful response is one of grace and forgiveness for those who may persecute us. We would find ourselves in the good company of Jesus and Stephen.

Even our vilest enemies aren't beyond God's grace and salvation. God doesn't write them off easily, nor should we.

God, give us courage and faith to face whatever comes our way. Help us love and forgive our enemies. Teach us to pray for those who persecute us or seem beyond your redemption. Whether we live or whether we die, Lord Jesus, receive and protect our spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

e-vo for week of May 7

Dearest e-votees-

This coming Sunday is Easter 4 (which is also called "Good Shepherd" Sunday by some). It is also the day in which we commemorate mothers. One of the places we can surely catch a glimpse of long-suffering love is in the love of a mother for her child.



19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:19-25, NRSV

The joy of being a parent is one of the most exquisite joys I have known. But anything that can bring exquisite joy can also bring about heart-rending wounds as well. Those who are closest to us have the capability to wound us most deeply.

Motherhood begins in suffering and leaves its wounds and scars along the way. Being a mother, from my perspective, is one of the most intimate, deeply-knitted bonds there is. Those closest to us have the capability to wound us most deeply. Images of Mary cradling the dead Jesus (as in Pieta) are incredibly moving. Jesus wasn't the only one who bore the nails of the cross. They surely pierced Mary as well.

We are called to participate in the sufferings of Christ. Perhaps we can voice something like what Paul wrote:

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Colossians 1:24, NRSV

We are called to draw near to others. The nearer we draw the more exposure we have. Those who are closest to us have the capability to wound us most deeply. When we embrace the risk and draw near in the name of God we follow the example Christ left us and God's approval for righteous suffering.

God, give us wisdom and courage to risk and love in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

e-vo for week of April 30

Dearest e-votees-

This week we'll linger in the appointed Psalm for this coming Sunday.



1 I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

12 What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, NRSV

I can't help but be drawn into sacramental imagery when I read this Psalm.

We are born ensnared by death. The "pangs of Sheol" have us bound up. We suffer and are distressed and are in anguish in our unredeemed state.

We cry (when we grow old enough) and before that the community cries "O Lord, we pray, save this life!"

God pours out heaven's bounty of love, grace, forgiveness and salvation upon us. We are saved through God's doing.

In response we lift up the cup of God's salvation and call on the name of the Lord (communion?)

We live into the vows that we make and that the community, even before we could speak, made on our behalf.

Precious in God's sight is the death of God's faithful ones (death in baptism?). Our bonds our loosed (freedom in baptism!).

In response we can live a sacrificial life of service ("Let your light so shine before others...") bringing glory to God.

God, You have loved us and loosed us. Help us use that freedom to love You and others and help them be set free. Amen.