Wednesday, September 24, 2014

e-vo for week of September 24

Dearest e-votees-

People never seem to quite catch on in scripture that engaging Jesus with attempts to entrap him never end well for the engagers.

I know we would never say this so directly but I wonder how often our subconscious says things "Who gave you authority over me?"



23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Matthew 21:23-32, NRSV

The deal seems to be that when we set ourselves in a place to judge God or to judge others we set ourselves up for failure. We are ill-equipped to judge God (duh!). We are also ill-equipped to judge our sisters and brothers made in God's likeness. We are even, perhaps most particularly, ill-equipped to judge ourselves. We are biased beyond our awareness and therefore beyond our ability to fix ourselves. We neglect the log in our own eye as we seek to judge the speck in another's eye. We are quick to allow mitigating circumstances to account for our misdeeds and thunder down judgment on others. Woe are us.

When asked by Jesus the elders and chief priests couldn't even give a straight answer to Jesus. They colluded to refuse to grant even an inch to Jesus' authority. They chose to be mute rather than perhaps yield a bit of ground.

Jesus called out their unwillingness to yield. Then he tells the story of two brothers. Both answered without being entirely truthful. One, however, compounded his flawed answer with an unwillingness to repent. All of us are sinners. All of us live in a way that is less than fully truthful. Jesus calls us to repent. Jesus calls us to change our ways. Jesus invites all in. Some seem more willing or able to accept the invitation than others.

God, help us to know ourselves as we really are and to accept your invitation to repentance. Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

e-vo for week of September 17

Dearest e-votees-

Our gospel lesson for this Sunday is one that really riles up our old Adam or our old Eve. "That's not fair! That's not right!" are the protestations.

To adapt C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe": "Fair?" said Mr. Beaver "Who said anything about fair? 'Course he isn't fair. But he's good. He's the king I tell you."



[Jesus speaking:] 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16, NRSV

Do you ever try to imagine this parable imported into modern times? I do.

A man has a major project on a tight timeline. He swings by Dunkin Donuts at daybreak for a coffee in his beat-up truck, gets a coffee, wipes the exhaustion out of his eyes and swings by Home Depot where the day laborers gather and picks up a load of folks willing to work for $100 for the day. He takes them to the work site and sets them to work. At 9:00 there is room for many more workers to he returns to Home Depot for another load of workers, another cup of coffee and makes the same pay arrangements. Midday the project is nowhere near completion so he swings back to Home Depot for another load with the same agreement. At 3:00 and 5:00 he makes two more runs. Come 6:00 it is quitting time. The man has his son-in-law and manager settle up. They line up the workers in order of when they started--5:00 p.m. back to 6:00 a.m. Each and every one of them is paid with a crisp, tax-free, off-the-books $100 bill. Grousing ensues.

On day two there are no laborers to be found until 5:00 p.m. The business collapses because an unsustainable employee compensation model but what a glorious lesson in grace for those with ears to hear and hearts to learn.

This story clearly isn't about good business practices. It is about how God gives us not what we deserve (what would be fair) but rather what reflects the gracious character of God (what would be grace). Think of the others stories in scripture that touch on these same themes: the grousing older brother while the wandering son has returned to be feted with fatted calf, robe and ring; the unforgiving slave who was pardoned of an unpayable debt only to throttle his colleague who was into him a few bills; the lavish response of one who knows how much she has truly been forgiven in the form of a footwashing and anointing. If we are able to realize how hungry, how unclean and how unworthy we are to receive a welcome into the banquet (and yet still think we are going) than how could we ever begrudge another who is no more unworthy than us?

The truth is that if we got what were fair we would not be safe. The hubris with which we demand our fair share is symptomatic of our illness. We are so full of ourselves and so empty of compassion to others. We need to look to the one who emptied himself on the cross and was full of compassion for others even for the ones who put him up on the cross. May we never look on the payment Christ made on our behalf with disdain and may we never regard our sisters and brothers with disdain as if they were no more or less in need of grace than we ourselves.

God, thank you for your grace. May we grow in our ability to share your grace with anyone and everyone we encounter. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

e-vo for week of September 10

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday there are two sets of assigned readings for worship. One is for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost and the other is for Holy Cross Day.

For our devotional reflection we will use the epistle reading for Holy Cross Day.



18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24, NRSV

Paul seems to freely point out where others have their hangups with the cross.

For Jews:
a stumbling block

For Gentiles:

For those of us who have been saved (our redeemed selves, our new Adam or our new Eve):
the power of God

What is the cross for that part of us that resists God's work and God's salvation? (our sinful selves, our old Adam or our old Eve):

What about the cross scares us? What about the cross puts us off? What about the cross causes us to look down on it rather than look down from it? Jesus clearly calls us to take up our crosses and follow after him. Why do we resist? What do we value more about this world and our old life rather than the our renewed life in this world that God is renewing? If Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God than we would do well to put on the ways of Christ (isn't that what being a Christian means in some fashion?). When we lean into the foolishness of the cross and allow the stumbling block to knock us off of our cocksure ways we find freedom and salvation.

We don't have to figure it out. We don't need to walk without a misstep. We have been saved. Period. Done deal. When Jesus said "It is finished" on the cross he meant just that. The cross makes us holy. Thanks be to God.

God, shape our faiths by the shape of your saving work for us--a cross. Amen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

e-vo for week of September 3

Dearest e-votees-

The translation of the source material for our gospel text renders the word "brother" as "member" in the NRSV (undoubtedly to be more gender inclusive). This didn't sit well with our text study group.

Jesus is speaking of sin intruding in a close relationship and offering a framework to engage that sin. We would do well to listen to it. We are in need of the loosing and binding that this practice offers.



[Jesus speaking] 15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:15-20, NRSV

When, not if, sin happens there is need for attention and reconciliation. At times we are the one perpetrating the sin. At times we the one on the receiving end of the sin. Most times we are both (simul peccator et peccatoree?). When there has been a breach what are we to do? Jesus has some keen insight for us.

We should engage honestly and with discreetly with the other party. Our hope is to hear and to listen. If that can be accomplished the breach can be patched and the relationship regained. Thanks be to God.

If that fails then it is time to bring in another party. A group of two to three who serve as a neutral third party, preferably, to listen and reflect from both sides. Two to three, I don't think coincidentally, were what was required in a legal proceeding to establish an accusation. If hearing and reconciliation can happen then the breach is patched and the relationship is regained. Thanks be to God.

The next step is to take the concern to the entire community. All are able to hear and participate with the hope of dealing with the sin in question and bringing about reconciliation. If that can be worked thanks be to God.

The seeming last step is to cast out the unrepentant one(s) as a Gentile or tax collector--an unholy outsider or a treacherous sellout. These folks were about as low as people got on the social scale. They were the unclean, the unwelcome and those outside God's promises.

But then we need to recall how Jesus spent his energies and his social engagements. Jesus seemed to befriend Gentiles and tax collectors. Jesus found a place among the unclean and the unwelcome and those outside of God's promises. Jesus immersed himself in the broken places of this world that healing might come to pass. Jesus placed himself among lepers and unclean and uncircumcised in order that they too might know restoration with God. Jesus pushed through every boundary that seemed to separate fallen, sinful humanity in order that all might be lifted up and restored and made new.

Jesus taught that, as much as it was up to us, we ought to be seeking reconciliation with those in the world and those in but not of the world. That is the point of this gospel teaching. We are to be about loosing and binding so that people might be set free and restored. Jesus lived this to his dying breath. When we gather in twos and threes and Bible studies and social gatherings and congregations and however else how could we strive to do any less?!?

God, send us to bind and loose all that we can from the grip of our broken relationships. We do this in the name of and for the glory of Jesus. Amen.