Wednesday, July 30, 2014

e-vo for week of July 30

Dearest e-votees-

This week's gospel text is one of the 4 appearances of the feeding of the 5,000 (and then some). The other 3 can be found at Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-15. This is the only miracle that Jesus performs that appears in all 4 canonical gospels. Perhaps we would do well to pay attention to this uniquely honored occurrence.



13 Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist as recorded in Matthew 14:1-12 and Mark 6:14-29], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21, NRSV

Jesus had every right and reason to be aloof and broody. His cousin had become a ghastly party favor in response to a sordid dance on the king's behalf. John said that he must decrease in order that Christ might increase. I wonder if he knew he would decrease so very much. John's disciples bear the news to Jesus. Jesus bears the news on his heart. By all rights he should have some time to collect himself, to rage, to grieve and to manage his good-byes.

But the crowd came looking for Jesus. They were hungry spiritually and by the end of the day hungry in body as well. No one could have blamed Jesus if he excused himself or just phoned it in that day but he didn't. He was stirred with compassion for the people. Jesus knew that he must increase in order to give the people what is necessary. He knew about the cross. I wonder if he knew how much might be required of him so soon after his cousin and forerunner's death.

John 6:9 tells us the source of the foodstuffs was a little boy's lunch. But, really, how far could two fish and five loaves go among five thousand men and the accompanying women and the accompanying children? Apparently it could go pretty far. After feeding everyone until the point of full the twelve disciples went out among the people and collected twelves basketfuls of leftovers. I imagine each of them going a different way with his own basket collecting hunks of fish and bits of bread. Each fills his basket to the point of overfilling. Surely they must be asking "Where in the world did all this come from? The kids' lunch wouldn't even cover the bottom of my basket!"

God sated the spiritual hunger of the people with authoritative teaching. God sated the physical hunger of the people with food shared with blessing and breaking and giving (sound familiar?). We gather in worship to be fed spiritually with scripture and graciously with bread and wine that is God's body and blood. God is still in the business of meeting our needs. And there is always more left over for others.

God, help us bear food--spiritual and physical--out to a hungry, hungry world. Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

e-vo for week of July 23

Dearest e-votees-

This week we'll look at a snippet of our assigned epistle text.



38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39, NRSV

This is an elegantly stated and expansive statement by Paul. We cannot be separated from the love of Christ Jesus. Whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord's (see Romans 14:8). Nothing that is happening now (things present) nor anything that will happen (things to come) will be able to wrest us away from God's love. No physical dimension nor principality will be able to drive a wedge between us and God's love. Nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from God's love.

But do we act in accord with this deep and abiding promise?!?

Do we think that somehow we haven't merited God's love? Do we think that we have done something so profoundly sinful or selfish or evil that God can no longer love us? Have we said something (blasphemy?) or not said something (been ashamed of Jesus?) so that we think God will no longer speak in our favor? Have we let worries of this world and the lure of wealth become a wedge between us and God? Perhaps we have been munching grass bit by bit until we find ourselves far from the other 99 in the flock and don't know how to get back. Have we rashly demanded things as if God was dead, squandered them and found ourselves hungry, empty and cut off? Surely there are things we can do that make God love us less--yes?!?

Paul's focus is not on our worthiness. Paul's focus is not on us. Paul's focus is on God's love that is insurmountable. When we focus on ourselves and our own worthiness we are bereft of hope. When we focus on God's love there is hope in spades. What is impossible for people (remember that camel through the eye of the needle?) is child's play for God. There is indeed hope and love for us. And, beyond that, for all who we would deem unlovable and irredeemable. Thanks be to God.

God, let us bask in your love. Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2014

e-vo for week of July 16

Dearest e-votees-

This week's gospel text reminds us that sorting out what is from God and what is not is treacherous work.

Beyond that, it isn't our work. Thanks be to God!



24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Matthew 13:224-30, 36-43, NRSV

Sometimes we are quick to read this parable of the wheat and the tares as people. When we do this we fall into a binary coarse sorting of all of humanity. Everyone is either good or bad, wheat or tare, saint or sinner, shiny righteous people or hellfire bound sinful people. When we are in this mode we look at others and ask ourselves "Hmmmm. Wheat or tare?" Which seems to fly in the face of the parable saying in so doing we may inadvertently yank out a wheat along with the tares. On perhaps more introspective days we might gaze into the mirror and ask ourselves "Hmmmm. Wheat or tare?" Which puts us back in the garden wanting to have the knowledge of good and evil. When we put ourselves in the place of judging (ourselves or others) we usurp God's place. This is a tale as old as time and it does not have a happily ever after ending.

The truth is that wheat and tares go much deeper than individuals being sorted between the keep and burn bins. There is good seed that has been sowed in us and in others: God's word (as in last week's gospel lesson), promises we are bathed in at baptism, promises that are grafted into our bodies at communion, promises and exhortations that come to us in myriad form through others fashioned in the image of God. These seeds with God's care and miraculous growth bring about wheat into the lives of people. New Adam and New Eve are the fruit of these seeds growing as they should.

Amidst these seeds has been sown weeds. The enemies of God throw these seeds into our lives as well. When we choose to set ourselves up in places fit only for God we sow these seeds in our lives and others. When we try to save ourselves we sow those seeds. When we presume we are on solid ground to save or condemn others we sow those seeds. The lies that spew out of us and into us from others sow those seeds. These seeds with dirt and death of fallen humanity and devilish fertilization bring tares into the lives of people. Old Adam and Old Eve are the fruits of these seeds growing in our lives. They can become hopelessly entangled with what God intended.

We can't and therefore shouldn't even try to pull out the weeds in our own lives or that of others. That is God's work. God's wisdom says let God in God's timing and in God's way deal with tares in our lives. We have seen how this looks clearly on the cross. We may catch glimpses of it as we make our way through this world. We will see it again at the time of the great harvest. In the mean time we can lean hard on the promises of God which never fail to bring forth harvest.

God, give us peace, patience and grace to trust in your wisdom and your grace. You sow good seeds into our lives and know better than we ever could how to best tend to the tares. Teach us to trust you. Give us ears to listen. Amen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

e-vo for week of July 9

Dearest e-votees-

This week's Old Testament text offers a deep and abiding promise about God's words.



10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55:10-13, NRSV

When God's word goes forth it does what it needs to do. There is no condition in this text about how learned or clever the bearer of God's word is. There isn't a stipulation that the hearer of God's word must be of a certain alertness or theological proficiency. The power is in the word. It is destined for success.

How is it that God's word goes forth? Certainly in preaching and devotions God's word is carried into the lives of some. In memory work and in scripture-shaped prayers God's word is sent forth for a purpose. In liturgies and in lyrics that are framed with scripture God's word is proclaimed. Any action done in the name of Christ from one seeking to live a godly life according to scripture will indeed be sending God's word into a world that needs so very much to hear from God.

The thing is try as we might -- and our Old Adams and Old Eves do try from time to time -- we can't stop God's word from accomplishing its purpose any more than we can stop hurricanes and blizzards. Once the heavens have released those elements all we can do is wait to see what consequence they will have in our lives. If we don't want scripture to take its toll on our lives we should get far, far away "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." (Hebrews 4:12, NIV). God's word does indeed cut into us but like a well trained surgeon bringing healing and wholeness.

God's purpose is that all might love God fully and love others fully. In such life all of the Law and the Prophets find fulfillment.

God, continue to send your abiding and in-dwelling word into our lives. Accomplish your purpose. Help us go out into the world with joy know that you lead us back to you in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

e-vo for week of July 2

Dearest e-votees-

This week's epistle text addresses the struggles we have to use the freedoms we have in Christ well.

The freedoms we have in this country and that were won on the cross came with an excruciating cost. How we use those freedoms can deeply honor that price or cheapen them.



[Paul writing:] 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Romans 7:15-20, NRSV

God calls us in the circumstance we are. We don't need to rise up to God on our own power (as if we could). God comes to us. That is what Jesus' incarnation is all about. The shepherd leaves the 99 and goes to the sheep. It is not about the sheep coming to its senses and returning to the flock. Even when we get close to that in scripture (son returning after squandering his share of dad's estate) it is the God figure (the father) who runs and makes things right. God always comes to us. That is good news. Let's not sully it by trying to add our meager efforts.

In response we are invited, with God's help, to move away from the sin that entangles us (and even dwells in us) into the place where God would rather have us be. But, as Paul says, this is excruciating. It takes a cross to deal with sin. The call on us is to take up our crosses and follow after Jesus. Perhaps that is some of the mysterious participating in the sufferings of Christ that Paul talks about in his letters.

As we gather with family and friends in worship and around patriotic displays in the days ahead may we all be mindful of the crosses that others have borne in order to secure our freedom. May we all be mindful that we are also called to take up our cross. As we have an abundance of choices as to what to do with our freedom may we, as God empowers us, follow after our Lord Jesus and seek to be like our master and teacher.

God, we are sinners without a prayer save what Jesus did. Help us abide in that freedom. Dwell in us and stir us to do that which is pleasing to you. Amen.