Wednesday, December 30, 2015

e-vo for week of December 30

Dearest e-votees,

On this cusp of this New Year (calendar, liturgical began in early December) may you and yours have a blessed and joyous 2016.



21 Then [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Luke 4:21-30, NRSV

Jesus has just astounded the home town crowd by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and telling them that he is the fulfillment of those deep and salvific promises. The crowd goes from amazed to questioning to rage within the space of 7 verses. Those joining in a house of worship end up taking Jesus to the cusp of the hill, where their town was located, threatening to throw him off.

Jesus wasn't thrown off but the people were. Why do you suppose that someone they knew and cared for drove them to such fury? Were they put off by the sheer arrogance of claiming that a scripture, a potent one at that, spoke directly of him? Were they put off by him claiming to be a prophet? Were they put off by Jesus saying God often seems to forgo the obvious and worthy recipients of blessing and grace and rather bestow honor and healing on those on the fringes?

What about us? Are there people we know who seem to think they are to us a gift from God? Do they, or others, attribute statements and accolades to them that just make our blood boil? Do people seem to neglect our needs and concerns in order to care for others much more likely to be found on the fringes? Were Jesus to come into our midst would we be likely to want to throw him off a cliff? Or discount and deride him? Or nail him to the cross?

The truth is the truth confronts us. It cuts us to the core. Look at the prophets and how they were treated. Consider John the Baptist and what became of him and his truth telling. Consider Jesus and what was done in order to attempt to suppress his truth telling. But the truth persists. And when the mainstream rejects the truth it goes to the edges. The truth slips right through the midst of our injurious hands and goes to one from Zarephath or a Syrian or a Samaritan woman at the well or shepherds tending their flocks by night or to ... If we want to know the truth, which will set us free, we need to let the truth speak to us--no matter how unlikely the speaker seems to be to us. If we want to find the truth we should consider stepping away from the center to seek Jesus on the fringes in the "least of these". When we speak truth, as God directs us, we may find ourselves being manhandled by an unruly mob--we're in good company.

God, bring your truth to bear to and through our lives. Help us seek after your will and, as John the Baptist said, decrease in order that you might increase. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

e-vo for Christmas week

Dearest e-votees,

Merry Christmas.



2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among
those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:1-20, NRSV

If you ask people their favorite Bible verse so very often people will respond with John 3:16. For God so loved the world that Jesus was sent. Christmas is the realization of that verse.

Think of all the preparations when a great dignitary arrives--the president or the pope or some other powerful or influential celebrity. Streets and hotel floors are cordoned off. The finest musicians and caterers are summoned. The unsightly and troublesome are disappeared. All is made neat and clean and tidy and presentable. We know how people of merit deserve to be treated. After they leave we mark where they stayed or sat or ate. We make shrines of a sort. We photo-document the day so we might never forget when power and influence came near.

In Jesus' case, the inns were cordoned off to keep the holy family out not to ensure room and safety for them. They were regarded as more akin to the unsightly and troublesome than the bearers of God's promise of salvation to the world. There was nowhere neat and tidy and presentable for these peasant citizens looking to participate in the census and God's plan for salvation so they were stalled with the animals. The only thing close to a caterer's serving dish was the manger that served as a makeshift bassinet.

There were no pictures to capture the birth or the visit. Any depictions that have been created after the fact are woefully "photoshopped" with halos and babies that don't cry and luminescent holy family members. All is made sanitary and acceptable in post-production.

This birth of the Christ child was certainly no modern-day dignitary visit. And as if to desecrate the moment even further, the shepherds, absolutely card-carrying members of the "unsightly and troublesome" enter into the story. They would never be granted access to a modern-day dignitary. It seems as though God doesn't understand how things ought to be done as we do.

But that is exactly the point. We would create a king's entrance and birth event that separates. It would hold the baby beyond arm's length of those who need to draw near. "God with us", Emmanuel, would be something more akin to "God is as close as you'll ever get, now please stay behind the line and don't cause any trouble". We would put too much emphasis on what we can do or can't do and not nearly enough on who has come to do what we could never do. Throughout Jesus' life and ministry all sorts of people of the wrong cut were granted way too much access. Jesus responded when they came and sometimes hunted them out when they didn't. He didn't worry about his food nor accommodations but made sure those who were hungry were fed (literally and metaphorically) and came to make room for all at the table here and at the banquet in heaven. I heard a sermon where the wedding guest who was given the bum's rush out of the wedding reception (Matthew 22:1-14) was Jesus who had given his appropriate clothes to the likes of us. Jesus puts aside all care, consideration, honor and the like for himself in order that we might receive those things. How blessed are we?!?

So when we go to church tonight, or whenever, or when we go out into the world and bump into "unsightly and troublesome" folks can we treat them as Jesus treated us? Can we put aside our own issues and bigotries and judgments and reach out to them with love and honor? Jesus was pretty clear how we ought to treat the "least of these" in Matthew 25. May peace be among those whom he favors (which includes you and everyone you might deem "unsightly and troublesome").

Blessed Christmas to you and to all you encounter.

God, help us, like Mary, ponder this Christmas miracle in our hearts. Help us, like the shepherds, respond to the birth and bear this good news to others. Help us, like the angel, proclaim God's glory and speak "Fear not!" to a fear-steeped world. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

e-vo for week of December 9

Dearest e-votees,

This coming Sunday our assigned lectionary text captures John the Baptist's intriguing proclamation out in the wilderness.



7 John [the Baptist] said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Luke 3:7-18, NRSV

I can just see the plans for the mission start church now: Working Title = "Brood of Vipers Lutheran Church"

Who starts a message by calling those in earshot a "brood of vipers"?!? John the Baptist. He continues his message with warning the hearers that their spiritual lineage won't save them. Claiming this or that allegiance or connection isn't sufficient to spare one from the consuming fire. Mincing words isn't one of John's gifts.

This sharp-toothed opening gets the attention of those in the audience. The crowds begin to ask in turn "What should we do?" John responds that they should treat those around them with gracious charity and justice. For those those with excess they should share with the ones in need. For those with opportunities to deal with others in an oppressive or predatory manner they should resist and treat others as they would want to be treated. In other words they should love their neighbor as they themselves would want to be loved.

Hearing this the crowds wonder if this one in their presence just might be the Messiah. Perhaps they were getting ready to love John with all their hearts, souls, minds and strengths. John quickly and completely ducks from their adoring gaze. He points away toward Jesus (a move he demonstrates throughout classical artistic depictions of him). John does what he does boldly and with great faith and zeal. He knows who he has been called to be and he is certain who he is not. Would that we also lived with such a balance of earnest humility and grounded reality.

God, thank you for the ministry and testimony of John the Baptist. The words that cut to the hearts of those in the wilderness cut us to the quick as well. Shape us into ones ready to receive Jesus more fully. Amen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

e-vo for week of December 2

Dearest e-votees,

Our appointed gospel text locates itself firmly in history and then proclaims the history-changing message of God's salvation that has broken through time and brings hope and light to all who would hear.



1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled,and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight,and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke 3:1-6, NRSV

Meticulous Luke makes sure to carefully locate the story he tells in time and place. He names names and gives titles. He lists places. He speaks of Roman structures and of Jewish structures. He makes connections to powers, principalities, religious leaders and political ones. For those who want facts and dates, times and places, Ts crossed (taus for Luke) and Is dotted (iotas for Luke) he is your man. This is a historical occurrence presented thoroughly and concisely.

Into this historical setting comes John the baptizer. He is connected with the prophecies of Isaiah. Luke tells us he is the one crying out in the wilderness (cue up Handel's Messiah or the Godspell soundtrack). He tells of John's work to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Terrains shall be transformed. Contours and pathways shall be realigned. Hearts will be brought to repentance and salvation will be made evident. The gospel in Luke bursts into history and recharts her waters. Through the baptismal ministry of John people are prepared for the Lord to come.

As with many texts of scripture there is a now and a not yet part. Jesus has come. John has prepared the way. Salvation has been revealed. This is in the now of the text. But we wait for Jesus to come again and to come in his fullness. We wait for our own hearts and lives to be prepared for Jesus to enter in more fully as Emmanuel ("God with us"). We wait for salvation to come fully to bear into our lives and our world. We know Jesus has come but we want and need him to come again and completely. This is what we wait for and what we pray for in Advent.

God, come into our historical realities. Enter into the realms of the here and now. Bring your salvation and your light in us and through us. Help us wait well and welcome all who would hear. Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

e-vo for week of November 25

Dearest e-votees,

Our appointed psalm for the 1st Sunday of Advent is Psalm 93.

As we gather this week for Thanksgiving with family and friends may God stir our hearts to reach out to those who are estranged from families and friends and neighbors. And may we always be mindful of how Jesus answers questions like: "And just who is my neighbor?"



1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD!
5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.

Psalm 93, NRSV

Floods are powerful and destructive. They can lift up to places we wish were sheltered. They can shatter our peaceful existence with their roaring. Our cries for help can be drowned out in the thunder of their mighty waters.

The seas and oceans are mysterious and fickle. They can provide food and sport and a means of transportation. They can serve us up as food and make sport of us and deliver us to a final and undesired destination. In ancient times the water were chaotic and powerful and to be feared (in every sense of the word "fear"). Floods and sudden squalls and major storms were hazardous and quite possibly deadly. It wasn't always clear what was lurking under the surface. People carved out an existence with the waters but it wasn't always an easy or a safe one.

Perhaps with our modern sensibilities we have come to terms with the waters. We are perhaps more aware of the expanse of the waters and the hazards. We have people who can give us advance warning and coast guards that can come pluck us from danger as needed. Perhaps we have been lulled into too easy a sense of security. Probably so.

But waters surely roar and thunder and lift us to this day. Violent crimes rise up within our borders and across the globe. Chaos and calamity, natural and human-induced, churn and foment. Our cries of fear and anger and despair can get drowned out by the events of the headlines and the arguments within our leadership and into our very homes. The sea may have shifted form but the dangers are ever present.

The appointed psalm lifts up the Lord as stronger and more steadfast than any waves that rise against us. The world has been divinely established and shall not be moved. The majesty and power of the seas are no match for the majesty and power of the Lord. God has given decrees. God seeks holiness. God's ways shall not be eroded no matter size of the storms that come. The leviathan might seek to make sport (or lunch) of us but it is God who made the leviathan for the sport of it. (Psalm 104:26) The raging seas are no match for our loving Lord.

God has given us decrees. They are summed up as "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind." and "Love your neighbor as yourself". These decrees are sure and trustworthy. Storms come into proper perspective when we build our homes on these decrees. Our neighbors are so much more than those who look, think, act, dwell and live like us. Whenever we seek to draw boundaries God says "You missed some" of the neighbors on the other side of our obstruction.

Holiness befits God's house. If we seek to be holy ("set apart" and "made righteous") then we need to allow Jesus to work on us. Holiness comes from without and comes to life as Jesus works change and renewal in our hearts and minds and actions. Holiness means bringing others into God's house that they might be made holy too. It means setting a place at the table for those we fear and those we loathe. It calls us to take up a basin and a towel and serve all including those who betray and those who deny. Holiness is best expressed in the cross with a demonstration of sacrificial love. We are called to take up our crosses and dwell in the way of sacrificial love as well.

God, be with us this Thanksgiving. May our bellies be filled, our hearts warmed, our loved ones gathered and those challenging, threatening and fear-mongering others made in your image find a place at our tables too. Help us to trust in your decrees and to be grown in holiness. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

e-vo for week of November 18

Dearest e-votees,

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year--Christ the King.

We are reminded in the conversation between Jesus and Pilate that the reign of God looks very different than the powers and power holders of this world.

With all of the news of powers and warring "kingdoms" of this world so painfully apparent in recent events perhaps we should be pleased and hopeful that Jesus comes into the world with a different looking reign--one that is cross-shaped, with a basin and a towel as its symbols and gracious prayers for one's enemies as a guiding principle.



33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

John 18:33-37, NRSV

Pilate represents the powers and the posturings of this world. Pilate has the power to set free or to condemn to death. Pilate finds himself in a position of interrogating Jesus. Just after our appointed text for this Sunday Pilate waxes philosophical about what truth might be.

We find ourselves in Pilate. We are affected by and attempt to hold sway over the powers of this world. We try and force our ways. We play into the posturings of this world. We think we hold more power than we really do as we seek to free or condemn others made in God's image. We can get lost in vain thoughts and self-absorbed philosophizing. In the height of sin we set ourselves over Jesus (which hearkens back to our ancestors in the garden).

Jesus holds to his own truth and calling. He refuses to deny himself and engage the world on its terms. He faces the cross and the powers of this world. He yields to them. But he does not acknowledge their authenticity. He knows who he is and where he is from and where he will end up. He remains true to himself and authentic. And because he does this we are saved. We are liberated through Jesus from the ways of this world. The fallacy of our power games and our posturings are revealed.

When the time runs out the folly of our ways will be fully revealed. Jesus' kingdom will be most fully revealed. Until then we wait and we trust.

God, bring the Pilates in us to a rightful demise. Bring Jesus and his ways to the fore in our lives. Use us to challenge and reject the ways of this world that deny and betray your truth and your gospel. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

e-vo for week of November 11

Dearest e-votees,

Perhaps you've seen the studies about how fewer and fewer people are going to church. That people may claim the "spiritual" tag but are averse to the "religious" one. Straying from the support, encouragement and protection of the great cloud of witnesses can severely hamper our walk of faith.

Divide and conquer is a time-tested strategy for winning a battle. The devil knows how to fight. Good thing victory is not up to us. We do well to continue to gather and encourage and wait until the battle is over once and for all.



11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

17 he also adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:11-25, NRSV

We as Christians have put our faith in the life, work, ministry, death, resurrection and faithfulness of Jesus. Because of the promises and the faithfulness of Jesus our lives, works, ministries, deaths and resurrections are made surer and deeper. Because our salvations are not ultimately dependent on us we can enter into the grace and freedom of hope without wavering. It's not about us and our good works. It is about everybody and Jesus good works. We get to live in response to the freedom granted to us in Christ. We get to be gathered into the great cloud of witnesses.

So how do we grow in faith and trust in a world that can be so fracturing and while resisting an adversary that can be so effective at picking us off the herd? We meet together. We meet with our friends and with those hypocrites we believe are lurking among us. We meet when it is easy and life-giving and when it is hard and requires determined commitment on our parts. We don't just go when we perceive something is there for us (being spiritual consumers if you will) but when our only reason for being there might be to be a blessing and a comfort and an encourager to another even the hypocrites(a religious devotee if you will). It's not about us and gratifying our spiritual fancies. It is about us being part of the family of God--warts and all--and them being there for us too.

The Day is coming. Our futures are safe and secure in the work and love of Jesus. While we wait let's allow the Holy Spirit to encourage and assure us and to send us out to bring other sheep that have wandered back into the flock. It's what Jesus would have us do.

God, thank you for making room for us in the community of faith. However we and others come--curiosity, obligation, necessity, seeking, grudgingly, desperation--let all be well received and encouraged all to the glory of God. Amen.

Friday, November 6, 2015

e-vo for week of November 4

Dearest e-votees,

I can't help but think Jesus is talking about me in the first paragraph of this Sunday's gospel reading. Perhaps it feels pointed at you as well.



38 As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

John 12:38-44, NRSV

So Jesus says beware of the scribes (as I am busy electronically scribing this devotion to you). Beware of those who like to walk around in long robes (I don't know if I always like it but I certainly don an alb and stole on a regular basis). Beware of those who like to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces (who doesn't like a kind and deferential greeting when we are out in the world?). Beware of those who like to have the best seats in the synagogues and at banquets (okay, I'd rather be on the fringes here). They say long prayers (guilty as charged) and devour the houses of widows (not intentionally but I have turned a blind eye to the plight of others who are struggling--that is most certainly true).

I find more resonances than not with the description of the one Jesus warns about. Let those, including me, who have ears hear.

I want to share with you an experience I had long ago that still propels offerings and stewardship in my life:

I was in Mexico on a mission trip. We were in a long-winded (3 hour) worship service that was all in Spanish. I had trouble following much of what was happening. At one point, however, the offering plate came around. I knew what to do here--or did I?

I had (as I opened my wallet) two bills--a $20 and a $1. This $21 was all I had for an offering and for my meal money over the next 36 hours or so as we were about to board our bus for the return trip. I briefly pondered making change but that would a. look tacky and b. leave me with a pesos which weren't so easy to spend in the U.S. I realized my choice was no offering (not an option), $1, $20 or $21.

I had a sense come over me that I should put in the $20. I impulsively did. I now had $1 to eat for the next day and a half. I spent the rest of worship doing calculations of how I could best stretch $1 over the next meals (perhaps a bag of combos at the Texas panhandle and something like Jujubes once we reached Iowa?).

Later that day someone in our group (who as far as I know had no knowledge of my offering) came up to me and said "God wants for you to have this" and gave me a $20 bill. Never before or since has this person done anything like that with me. I was floored.

What I learned is that when God prompts me to give I can give and trust that provision will come. My giving has never been the same. I don't think this was a prescriptive model of how I should always give but I was deeply impressed by God's care for me at that time and I trust and believe it will always be there for me.

Bottom line, in a very small way, I was like the widow. I put nearly all I had into the offering plate. I didn't make a big show of it. But God noticed and lifted up that meager offering and made it something much deeper and lasting. Truth is that we don't know what the widow's intentions were--sacrificial giving trusting God to provide? Maybe. Last offering before giving up all hope and the ghost? (like the widow of Zarephath making a last meal for her son and herself) Maybe. Impulsive offering with no clear plan? Quite possibly.

I share my story not to say "Look at me, look at me!" as perhaps the long-robed scribe would in the marketplace. I share my story to say "Look at God, look at God!" God did a profound and miraculous thing some 28 years ago and it is still bearing fruit. In the risk and the daring of an impulsive gift to God I received it all back and so much more. Perhaps as you consider your giving and stewardship you might like the Holy Spirit blow you to an impulsive and blessed place.

God, help us grow in trusting you. Stir us to be bold and trusting in our benevolence. Help us beware of those Jesus describes and help us to distance our own behaviors from them. Amen.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

e-vo for week of October 28

Dearest e-votees,

God's intent is to unbind us from the things that separate us from the divinely appointed abundant life.



32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

John 11:32-44, NRSV

So much of Jesus' ministry was about unbinding and loosing and freeing. When Jesus encountered people who were bound up by religious tradition and hypocrisy that heaped burdens on them he loosed the cords and set them free. When Jesus encountered people who were captured by demonic presence or debilitating conditions or chronic conditions he chased the offending presences off and set those who had been captured free. When Jesus encountered people who were boxed in by blindness or deafness or muteness he opened the box and set them free. When Jesus encountered those who had been overshadowed by the valley of death he called them back and set them free. It takes a very select reading of Jesus' ministry to not find an abundance of reference to freedom and liberation.

This week's gospel lesson, for All Saints Day, shows the three Bethany siblings who were bound up. Mary is captured by grief and wondering where Jesus was when Lazarus died. (Martha reflected that same captivity in 1:21). She is weeping and disconsolate. Martha is also present here and is stuck in her perceptions of what is possible and what will happen. She seems more worried about the stench than engaging in just what Jesus is up to at this moment. Sometimes doing what we think best is how we try to swallow our grief. Martha, ever the one sensitive to the needs of others, is taking care of others but perhaps not engaging what she fully needs to do to move toward healing. Lazarus is bound up in grave cloths and sealed behind a stone. He is as captured as you get as death has beset him. The full consequence of our sinful and mortal nature has come to bear upon him.

Jesus enters into the scene and is brought to tears. He surely knew where this account was going (see John 11:11-15). What was it that stirred him up so? Was he grieving his friend as well? Was he grieving the pain that Mary and Martha were experiencing? Perhaps he had a sense of his own death and rising and that was weighing heavy on his soul. In truth Jesus was bound up with the fate of humanity. Jesus came to set us free but in the process he became tied into pain, mortality and isolation from our heavenly Father. Jesus took on that which we could not bear in order to give us a freedom we could not deserve. Jesus' work on the cross speaks to all who would hear "Unbind them, and let them go!" Clearly the repentant thief heard that good news. Will we let God say it to us as well?

God, we are bound up in so many ways. Sin keeps us doing that which we ought not and avoiding that which we ought. Jesus came to shatter the manacles, to cut the cord, to break the chains and to make our tombs impermanent. That which binds us is losing its grip. Thanks be to You. Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

e-vo for week of October 21

Dearest e-votees,

Psalm 46 is what is appointed for Reformation Sunday.



1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 46, NRSV

When the world seems as if it is coming apart at the seams it is easy to find some comfort in a psalm like Psalm 46. There is an assurance that even when kingdoms totter and the nations are in an uproar that God is our refuge. When 9-11 happened we held a prayer vigil service. As part of that the pastor types each selected a verse to read and to meditate upon. I was one of two who chose Psalm 46. I would expect that Psalm 46 has been on the lips of clergy in Roseburg, OR as they try to help put pieces back together after the tragic shooting. I would expect that during the persecutions throughout history of the Jews that these words have not been far from the people. And when Bonhoeffer talks about the Psalter being the prayerbook of the Bible it is not hard imagining him and other martyrs of other ages finding comfort, solace and courage in the words of this psalm. God is our refuge, our hiding place and our mighty fortress. Hence the connection with Reformation Sunday.

We long for a world where the wars come to cease. We pray for a world where the tools of war are no more. We want the river that makes glad God's city. We want God to stop the tottering and quiet the uproar. We want to know the peace--the shalom--that seems so elusive for the world. We want still peaceful waters where God will make us to lie down. We want the world to stop quaking and breaking, the polar ice and glaciers to stop calving and melting before they are beyond recovery, the streets and the theaters and the schools of our country to be places of commerce and traverse and entertainment and not crime scene after crime scene after crime scene.

So we read "Be still, and know that I am God!" Is that a divine call to inaction? Are we to still our voices and not speak up against the wrong that rears its evil head? Is our best play to sit back and watch God bring the boom? No. I believe the be still is to not let ourselves become anxious. Our salvations are sure. God's promises and word are sure. God is our refuge. So we can act. And we can speak. And we can labor for justice. And we can repent. And we can seek reconciliation. And we can proclaim "The Lord of hosts is with us" knowing that the us includes all those who chafe, annoy, bother and beset us. God is the refuge of all in trouble (which is all of us and all of them). The good news of salvation and shalom is intended for all. May we continue to pray and trust and lean on Psalm 46. God help us, everyone!

God, we are all refugees in this sin-stained, war-torn and broken down world. Bring your peace and your healing in and through us. Let none who might be touched and saved by your word be excluded. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

e-vo for week of October 14

Dearest e-votees,

This week's appointed gospel text is James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approaching Jesus asking to sit on either side of him in his glory.

One of my favorite theological re-imaginings of this encounter (and the Garasene demoniac) is in an essay called "James, John and Crazy Joe" by Gordon Atkinson. You can find it as one of the essays in by Gordon Atkinson. This book is the one I always buy copies when I can so I have them to give away to people. If you like good writing and insightful theology I urge you to add this one to your library. I will warn you that Gordon puts some off-color language in the mouths of Biblical characters. I don't think inappropriately so--just thought I should warn you. If you do track down this essay and give it a read please let me know what you think.

Bob Dylan was spot on when he crooned "Gotta Serve Somebody"--Jesus pushes back and really asks "Are you going to serve your vanity or are you going to serve all?" And as if to make sure we knew where he fell on that question he got out a basin and a pitcher and did the unthinkable on Maundy Thursday.



35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:35-45, NRSV

It is nice to be noticed and praised. All of us like a kind word, a token of appreciation or other forms of people celebrating who we are and what we have contributed. This can take on a life of its own with cutthroat competition (and often shading the boundaries of what is permissible) to take home the title. Even the explosion of participation trophies and graduations at every level for every little accomplishment run rampant. There are so many stories of public figures padding their résumés, unduly puffing out their chests and tearing at the accomplishments of others so that they might appear better in comparison. Fame and recognition become more important than truth and substance. People are measured by how many Twitter followers they have or how many likes on Facebook or how many views on YouTube. Look into the mirror and see if you don't have looking back one who wants a little more recognition and honor than might be due or healthy.

James and John (and in Matthew 20:20-28 their mother is involved as well) approach Jesus. They ask him to grant whatever they ask of him (pretty hefty request to ask God incarnate). Jesus doesn't give a blanket "Yes." but responds with a clarifying question. They want the places of honor sitting at Jesus' right and Jesus' left when he comes in his glory. Pretty bold request. Given that they were two of the inner circle of three you wonder what Peter might have thought of this? I like Gordon Atkinson's take. These men think they know how the second coming will play out (doubtful) and that they among all people who ever lived deserve the two highest seats of honor (also doubtful). I would expect that even if Jesus would have said "Yes." that they would have then argued about which deserved the best seat (presumably the right) and which deserved the lesser seat (surely). This is our old sinful selves wanting to grab and assure what is not up for grabs and certainly mysterious. It is amazing that Jesus is so calm and collected in his response.

What Jesus does is redirect to a truer meaning of being a disciple. We follow not to glob onto Jesus' glory (which in John is the cross and which comes our way too with the call to take up our cross and follow after Jesus) we follow because Jesus grants life to us. And it turns out the way for us to enter into that life is to give ourselves away in service to others. We are to take up a basin and a towel and wash the feet of others. We are to take up a soup ladle and salad tongs and load up a meal for the hungry. We are to open our wallets and purses and support the broader work of benevolent societies, particularly those with a healthy faith foundation, in service of the gospel. We are to worry less about how many letters are after our name on our business card and what accolades come our way and more about being like Jesus which looked like a self-denying slave for the sake of healing and restoration of others.

God, help us through the grace and example of Jesus be more like Jesus. Teach us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and do the sorts of things he did. And give us grace to let others serve us as well. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 470th post since I started using the URL in 2007). It has been a challenge, as you may have noticed, to publish regularly each Wednesday. I am planning to continue on to 500 posts and then take a substantial if not permanent break from writing this devotion series. My hope and prayer is that this has been a blessing to you. Thank you for reading them and the encouraging comments that have come my way.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

e-vo for week of October 7

Dearest e-votees,

Jesus calls us towards undistracted devotion. Those things that come between us and Jesus are the very things we may be called to put aside.

This kind of call is certainly beyond our ability to manage--as if threading a needle with a camel--but God is able to do far beyond what we know to be possible.

I'm grateful to our weekly text study that helped open up this text, and previous weeks' too, about our attempts to get by with the bare minima.



17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
,br> 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10:2-16, NRSV

A man kneels before Jesus and asks "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Which is another way of saying "When have I done enough to earn eternal life?" Which is another way of saying "When can I stop trying to earn eternal life?" Which is another way of saying "What do I have to do or give over in service to God and what do I get to do or keep for myself?" This young man is trying to map out when he has done enough. He has been faithful in abiding the commandments since he was young. He wants, perhaps, to slow down and take it easy. Perhaps he wants to build bigger siloes to store his abundance and eat, drink and be merry. Jesus says, loving him, that he lacks one thing--he needs to liquidate his assets and follow Jesus. Jesus pushed him beyond what he was able or willing to give and the man went away shocked and grieving.

Jesus says that it is easier to thread a needle with a camel than for a wealthy person to enter into the kingdom of God? What is your "wealth"? What is the thing that you are unable or unwilling to give up for the sake of following Jesus? What is the thing that would stymie the conversation and send you away in shock and grief? All of us are wealthy. All of us have divided hearts. What is the thing that keeps you from entering into the kingdom of heaven? What is your non-negotiable?

For all of us it is easier to push a pack-animal through a puny pinhole than it is to enter of our own accord. We can't merit the kingdom of heaven. We have things we value more than the kingdom of heaven. For all of our best intentions and efforts we can't do enough. For us it is impossible. But God is not constrained as we are. God can bring us into the kingdom of heaven. God does bring us into the kingdom of heaven.

God changes our hearts from "What's the least I can do to get by?" to "What things do you have in store in me and through me as I follow after you?" The kingdom isn't merely a matter of eternal life but of abundant life starting now that continues on to eternity. There is a profoundly deep but narrow path that leads us along the kingdom way. God loves us too much to let things remain in our lives that deter us from the path. We may be shocked and grieved at what God demands but there is always blessings and assurances that trump our temporary troubles and trepidations.

God, guide us on the path you have created for us. Help us put aside that that so easily hinders. Thank you for salvation and joy that are only possible through you. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 469th post since I started using the URL in 2007). It has been a challenge, as you may have noticed, to publish regularly each Wednesday. I am planning to continue on to 500 posts and then take a substantial if not permanent break from writing this devotion series. My hope and prayer is that this has been a blessing to you. Thank you for reading them and the encouraging comments that have come my way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

e-vo for week of September 30

Dearest e-votees,

The gospel text is a hard one. It is a hard one to read. It is a hard one to preach. It is a hard one for one who has been divorced and has remarried to read and to preach.

One of the reasons for having assigned lectionary readings is for holding our feet to the fire. It would be way too easy to routinely duck this text if I was the one making the choices for which lessons we would use. It is in abiding in our broken places that healing can come. It is in letting all of Jesus' words fall on our ears that we can best truly hear the good news--aka the gospel.



2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:2-16, NRSV

As discerned from Genesis God's intention for those who choose to get married is that they would leave their parents and become one flesh. They would enter into a lifelong partnership where both are lovers and partners and helpers for one another. The intimacy of the partnership would even trump that of their families of origin as they would leave their parents and cling to one another. As God leads and directs such holy unions people have no business separating (or "putting asunder" as some marriage liturgies say).

These intentions of God are still, I believe, at work. But we have strayed from God's intention. Just as the first man and the first woman who already were of one flesh had hard hearts and lust for knowledge of good and evil in their eyes we too are prone towards hard hearts and wanting to be the controllers of our own fates.

When Jesus says that the Pharisees have hard hearts, when it comes to divorce, he is saying that they are like Pharaoh (whose heart was constantly calcifying during the 10 plagues). Pharaoh had little regard for the misery and pain he was bringing upon the Hebrews slaves and the Egyptian people by refusing to set the Hebrew people free. His desire to control and lord his influence over the people came to disastrous results. Jesus says that it is such hearts as Pharaoh's that people wanting to expediently dismiss an inconvenient spouse have. Those who choose divorce are pushing against God's best intentions for us. We demonstrate our calcified hearts and our adulterous natures. This is indeed a hard text to read as a divorced person and to preach to a congregation with many divorced people. But Jesus holds fast to God's first intentions for marriage.

There are times when divorce may be the best option. Jesus allows it in the chase of unfaithfulness in Matthew 19. What exactly is "unfaithfulness" is interesting to ponder. Can one be unfaithful through workaholism? Can one be unfaithful by being emotionally aloof? Can one be unfaithful by spending too much time and devotion to friends? Or hobbies? Or ...? Surely there is more to unfaithfulness than just physical interactions. We could spend much time pondering when and what exactly divorce might be permissible in Jesus' eyes.

What Jesus really seems to be doing is not chastising those who have been divorced so much as speaking to those who might allow their hearts to be hardened to allow divorce. Divorce isn't a one time legal decree. Divorce is a series of hardenings and separations. God wants us to be soft of heart and seeking to be more connected with God. God wants us, who are married, to be soft of heart and seeking to be more connected with our partner. Jesus wants to stop the hardening and the separation.

The Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to commit to when divorce is appropriate. Jesus responds to the much deeper issue, which can certainly lead to divorce, of our hard hearts and our desire to sever connections. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman who had 5 husbands previously (and presumably had been divorced several times) he offered her living water and not condemnation. Perhaps we, as the church, should approach people who have abided the throes of divorce much more like Jesus.

I wouldn't wish the pain and torment of divorce on anyone. My hardness of heart and wanting to be in control certainly came into play as our marriage came undone. I will forever bear the scars from that excruciating experience. But I trust in Jesus who showed love and compassion on the woman who was caught in adultery. Jesus offers forgiveness and new starts. Jesus calls me an adulterer. But he also called Paul (nee Saul) an accomplice to murder to follow him. And he also called Peter who was quick to betray him when things got rough to follow him. And he called James and John who were partial to being noticed and recognized and exalted to follow him. And he calls me day after day to follow him. And he calls you.

Jesus calls us to have our hearts softened and to return to God. In the process our hearts will hopefully soften as we regard ourselves and others in the shadow of God's grace and new starts. That surely is some portion of the answer of Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17.

God, soften our hearts and bring us into your best desires for us your children. Give us grace and courage to minister to all who have suffered hardening and exclusion. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 468th post since I started using the URL in 2007). It has been a challenge, as you may have noticed, to publish regularly each Wednesday. I am planning to continue on to 500 posts and then take a substantial if not permanent break from writing this devotion series. My hope and prayer is that this has been a blessing to you. Thank you for reading them and the encouraging comments that have come my way.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

e-vo for week of September 23

Dearest e-votees,

This week's gospel text says a lot about what we shouldn't do but also much about what we should do. Unfortunately our tendency is often to avoid doing the wrong rather than also hearing the strong call to do what is right.



38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Mark 9:38-50, NRSV

When we went to Israel and Palestine during my senior year in seminary one of our stops was in the town of Kursi. There was an abundance of basaltic lava stone in the area. It was a heavy, rough-surfaced volcanic rock that was used to make millstones and olive presses. The millstone is a heavy, heavy stone that is attached to an axle and rolled around (pushed by people or beasts of burden) to crush wheat into flour. You can still see massive millstones laying around the remains to Kursi to this day--simply stunning. When Jesus says that it would be better to have a GREAT millstone (not even just a small millstone) hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea rather than putting a stumbling block in front of others that is a serious statement. Perhaps it makes us want to shy away from interacting with others lest we somehow cause them to stumble.

Jesus goes on to say about how we are better to maim and disfigure ourselves in order to behave righteously than to enter with bodies intact into the fires of judgment.

These sayings are hyperbolic. Jesus isn't telling us to tie millstones around our necks or others. He isn't telling us to pluck out our eyes or lop off our limbs. Some have taken these teachings literally and done just that. When we are exceedingly literal with holy writings with no discernment very bad things can happen. We would all do well to pray for better understandings and to work together to help interpret and shape our practices derived from scriptures.

In the Greek there is what is called primitive alpha. In English is shows up as the prefix a-. We use it to negate the meaning of what follows. Apathy is a- + pathy and means lack of feeling. Amorphous is a- + morphous and means lack of having shape. Atheist is a- + theist and is one who lacks a belief in God (or believes there is no god). I think Jesus ends telling us not to be asalty (a- + flavorful or preserving or enhancing). The world needs flavor. It needs preserving agents. It needs things that bring out the best in others. That is part of our call as Christians.

Of course we should not be assaultive. When we intentionally cause harm to others or cause them to suffer there are dire consequences in store for us and for those others. This seems basic. But we are also not to be asaltive. It isn't sufficient to lurk passively and pacifistically in the shadows. We are called to engage the world. We are to be a light and to be salt. We are to take what God has given us (our gifts, our passions, the gospel, ...) and take it out into the world to bring flavor and seasoning, preservation and salvation. The consequences are pretty dire if we choose to negate our saltiness.

God, make us to be salty people in a world that can be bland, rotting and just getting by. Help us to never obscure the goodness you have put in us and called us to be in the world. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 467th post since I started using the URL in 2007). It has been a challenge, as you may have noticed, to publish regularly each Wednesday. I am planning to continue on to 500 posts and then take a substantial if not permanent break from writing this devotion series. My hope and prayer is that this has been a blessing to you. Thank you for reading them and the encouraging comments that have come my way.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

e-vo for week of Setpember 16

Dearest e-votees,

This week we get another prediction from Jesus about the way of the cross. No one rebukes him this week, perhaps they learned from Peter's exchange last week. But Jesus shows them a way very different from the world to be "the greatest".



30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:30-37, NRSV

Jesus calls on his disciples asking them what they were arguing about as they walked. They chose to keep it to themselves since they were busy trying to decide which of them was the best disciple--and probably arguing in their own favor. We're like them aren't we? We want to be a great disciple. We hope we are a great disciple. When we look at others we see their flaws quite clearly and look over our own. I'm pretty sure Jesus was talking to us, as well, when he taught about taking the plank out of your own eye before taking the speck out of the eye of another. We are just as prone to wrongly argue about which disciples are the greatest.

Jesus goes on later in John to show the disciples and us the true example of a servant. When he was at the Passover meal with his disciples just before he was to be betrayed, arrested, condemned and crucified he got up from the meal. He took a basin and a towel and washed the feet of all who were present--the denier and the betrayer and all the rest. Were we there he would have certainly washed our feet as well. In spite of our self-promotion and judgment of others--probably precisely because of those--he breaks through with an example of humility, service and sacrifice.

We want to be big and important and full of prestige. Jesus takes a little one--one who is small and not so important and not so full of prestige--and says that if we want to engage and welcome Jesus it is through engaging and welcoming one such as this. We are noticed and regarded not so much for what we do but for who we lavish notice and recognition upon. We find ourselves and our place by losing ourselves, finding others and giving them their proper place. It isn't how the world does it but perhaps that is precisely the point.

God, thank you for making us your children. Help us recognize, welcome, affirm and honor all of your children. Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

e-vo for week of September 9

Dearest e-votees,

The world has all sorts of ideas about who Jesus is or might be. C.S. Lewis thought it boiled down to three options: a liar, a lunatic or just who he claimed to be. Who do you say that he is? Is your understanding of divine origin or human?



27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38, NRSV

How do you sort out just who this Jesus is? There were all sorts of theories in Jesus' time including one of the prophets of old, maybe even Elijah. Or perhaps he was John the Baptist back from the dead (I don't know how that works when they met at the river Jordan--some sort of resurrection/time travel paradox). Others thought he was a liar. Others a lunatic. Others a blasphemer. How do you draw your conclusions about this one?

From human reasoning it is hard to get to the place of confessing Jesus as Lord--as God enfleshed. Even if somehow we get to the place of understanding Jesus to be the Messiah--the savior in the line of David to bring salvation--it is hard to go along from that revelation to Jesus' "exultation" on the cross. The story doesn't fall within the confines of human reason. Peter was sensible in kicking against the path that Jesus had mapped out. Peter tried to quietly rebuke Jesus. Jesus would have none of it and publicly rebuked Peter. Jesus had come to understand the divine plan that involved painful death on a cross trumped by the empty tomb.

Jesus then extends the call to the cross to his disciples. If we want to follow Jesus then self denial and bearing crosses is our lot. If we try to cling to our life in our own power we will end up like any disappointed hoarder at the end of The Twilight Zone. We try to hang on to life in our own ways and understanding and we end up with dusty hands clutching regret. Jesus says that we need to lose our lives for his sake. We may lose the world but we will gain far greater. Perhaps the best summary is found in the words of Jim Elliot's journal who was martyred January 8, 1956:

He is no fool who gives what he
cannot keep to gain that which
he cannot lose.

God, lead us to our crosses, draw us in your ways, sustain us in our challenges and be glorified in us whether we live or whether we die. Amen.

Friday, September 4, 2015

e-vo for week of September 2

Dearest e-votees,

This week's gospel includes the exchange between Jesus and the Syrophoenecian woman. It is a powerful exchange that is also captured (in slightly expanded form) in Matthew 15:21-28.



24 From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Mark 7:24-37, NRSV

Have you ever encountered someone who you knew would not take "no" for an answer? It seems that the woman in our gospel lesson is just such a person.

Jesus is keeping a low profile. He enters a house wanted to be left alone. Along comes a Gentile woman. She had heard about Jesus and somehow found him in his hiding place. She came not for herself but for her daughter. She pleads with Jesus for help. In the Matthew account Jesus seems to ignore her until the pleading becomes unbearable. In his response he calls her a dog (very unkind remark, likening her to an unclean animal). She takes it in stride and turns the insult into an opportunity to express faith. Jesus yields and grants healing to the daughter.

When we know that something is in need of change, do we engage with the same tenacity and resilience of this woman? When our requests are turned away with laughter or insults or mocking do we flare in anger? Or do we seek in the situation the place to attest to faith? When we are seeking things are we seeking for ourselves or for the sake of others? Do we approach God with boldness and a sure and certain hope? There is a lot be learned from this woman of deep faith and tenacity. Do we have ears to hear? If not maybe we could ask Jesus to summon some spittle and speak "Ephphatha" into us.

We are just as unclean and unworthy to approach Jesus as was this woman. By polite culture and by social divisions she had no business talking to Jesus. Perhaps she knew that this was the same Jesus who breaks bread with sinners and whose disciples don't always get the traditional practices right. Whatever she knew or didn't know she wasn't going to leave without a healing word spoken towards her daughter. What if we engaged God in just such a way over all of the sons and daughters of God we see needing a healing touch? Dare we be so bold?!?

God, thank you for the abiding and tenacious faith of the woman of our gospel lesson. Give us such a faith and help us express it for the sake and healing of others. Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

e-vo for week of August 26

Dearest e-votees,

There are lots of expectations from polite and tidy society that we keep ourselves clean on the outside: wash our hands, watch our tongues, live decently and morally. These can be wonderful expectations that keep us safe and healthy, foster good relationships and provide wholesome examples to others.

There is, however, in all of us the tendency to go the other way: to dabble in the dirty and unhealthy, to slander our neighbors and especially our enemies, to choose the indecent and the immoral. There is a reason that we start worship so often with confession. There is a reason that our unbridled passions lead to dark and harmful places. There is a reason that Cain killed Abel, that David wreaked havoc on the lives of Uriah and Bathsheba, there is a reason that Judas betrayed Jesus, there is a reason that our world full of resources is so very unequally divided, etc., etc. There is a reason that the horrible things that happen in front of our eyes on the TV and on the internet while troubling and sinful might not be so surprising. There is in us the potential for horrific evil. That is part of why Jesus tells us so clearly to remove the speck from our own eye before judging the log in the eye of another.



1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of [Jesus'] disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, NRSV

You have certainly heard the turn of the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness.” What that is suggesting is that if we live clean, pure, shiny, pious lives we draw closer to God. It says that if we abide with the expectations of a clean on the outside society we will fit in and find ourselves closer to God. It is a way to coerce and shame us from the outside to toe the line. With the implicit threat that God will reject us if we don't do what's expected.

The Pharisees and the scribes in the gospel text are pointing out that Jesus' followers, and Jesus too through guilt by association, were not doing what was expected. They were not measuring up to the good and clean society. They were distancing themselves from God and God's people.

Jesus pushed back calling those who were accusing hypocrites. He claims that their pious practices were more important to them than the posture of their hearts. He quotes Isaiah in his response. He doesn't dismiss the purity laws or the rules of a decent society but says that they pale in comparison to what is in a person's heart. It is what is inside that makes any of us--all of us--unclean.

The truth is that we can't get clean enough on the outside, let alone on the inside, to be worthy to draw near to God. “cleanliness is next to godliness.” is a condemning word if we are honest about our cleanliness. We are beyond help to get clean under our own power and self-monitoring.

The good news--the gospel--is that “godliness comes next to uncleanliness.” Jesus comes into this world and draws near all manner of broken and sinful lives--prostitutes, gluttons, adulterers, tax collectors, demon-possessed, lepers, Gentiles, etc., etc. He comes close and makes them clean. He calls them and their insides begin to change. He speaks love and truth and forgiveness and the saints are born. Jesus calls us and our hearts draw near to him. In this lifetime our outer cleanliness will not come to completion. No matter, Jesus loves us anyway. And when we get that we find ourselves called and compelled to be so much kinder to fellow indebted slaves, hungry beggars and other sin-stained sojourners.

God, continue to come close to us. Give us hearts that draw near to you. Give us hearts to love others as we ourselves have been loved by you. Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

e-vo for week of August 19

Dearest e-votees,

Peter says “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” in John 6:68.

We embellish it with a few “Alleluias” and include it as a regular part of our worship liturgy.

Really. Where else could we go but Jesus? It certainly isn't always easy. And it often isn't safe--as the Beavers reminded Lucy so memorably in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But following Jesus is the best place I know to find freedom, peace and joy.



56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:56-69, NRSV

Jesus has been busy in the last few weeks pushing people's buttons and pushing some away. He talks of eating flesh and drinking blood--anathema to the Jews. He makes divine claims with his "I am..." pronouncements and calling God his Father. He says that the bread he provides trumps the manna that came down from heaven. This teaching was offered in synagogue in Capernaum (hometown to Peter's mother-in-law and many believe Jesus as well). These words aren't easy. These words aren't safe. But they speak of life and freedom, peace and joy.

When Jesus is told that his words are hard he doesn't apologize and soften them. Jesus says that his words are spirit. They chafe against the flesh. They stir in us belief as it is granted by the Father. They birth in us faith that will sustain us when the world, too, is neither easy nor safe. We are drawn into the fullness of the God's reign.

As many fled Jesus asked the 12 if they wanted to go to. They said no (for now, their actions said differently come Good Friday as our text study noted this week). They stayed. Peter asked our liturgical refrain “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We need Jesus' words. We need the eternal life that they evoke. We need the real food of Jesus flesh and Jesus' blood. Our flesh will falter. But our spirits, sustained by Word and Sacrament, will be sustained unto eternal life. As we enter into that eternal life even now we find freedom, peace, joy and life. Thanks be to God.

God, grant us to come to Jesus. Grant us belief. Grant us eternal life. Sustain us with your words of eternal life. Sustain us with your heavenly food--your body and blood. Amen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

e-vo for week of August 12

Dearest e-votees,

The appointed gospel for this coming Sunday has all sorts of touchstones for those of us with ears to hear and eyes to see.  Some hear sacramental language of communion.  Some hear nuances of “our daily bread”.    Others can help but hear the divine “I am...”  There is promise for this day and promise for the final day.  What catches your ears and your eyes on this day?




51 [Jesus is speaking:] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

John 6:51-58, NRSV

We pray that God would grant us our daily bread.  That is trusting that God knows what we need and that we can trust each day for that.  There is no need to hoard or build outrageous storehouses.  God's grace is enough each and every day.  Manna in the wilderness was a tangible expression of God's daily and faithful provision.  Jesus says that he is bread come from heaven that trumps even the manna that came to those wandering for those forty years.

As has been pointed out at the weekly text study I attend over the last several weeks of bread texts is that John, who never explicitly mentions either of the sacraments--baptism or communion--is perhaps the most sacramental of the gospel accounts.  How do we hear Jesus talking about his flesh and his blood being true food and true blood and not perceive communion?  By eating and drinking we abide in Jesus.  Jesus is a persistent and sustaining presence in our worship assuring us of forgiveness and grace.  This meal is not only for us but for all who would come to the table.  As we are assured of forgiveness for us at this meal we are equipped to forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven.

As we are sustained and fed with Jesus we are strengthened to life eternal.  Beginning now we are given the gift of life that persists beyond the grave.  As Jesus was raised we too will be raised.  The communion meal we share now we share with all those who went before us and all those who are yet to come to the table.  There are churches whose inner communion rail is completed with a and arc of graves outside the church wall.  We are in communion with the great cloud of witnesses.  Our bodies will fail us some day but God's resurrection promise trumps the decay and entropy of our bodies.

If these words were said by anyone but Jesus they would be utter nonsense.  But Jesus draws us into the community of God as only he can.  He declares "I am..." and speaks divine promises of "We are..." that grant us life, healing, wholeness and joy.  These promises are for all who would come to the banquet meal with Jesus as the host.  We get to joyfully take our place at the table and bring others along.  May God give us words and actions for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. 

God, you have provided what we need for life in its abundant fullness.  Help us live gratefully to your glory.  Amen.

Friday, August 7, 2015

e-vo for week of August 5

Dearest e-votees,

There is a lot of talk of hunger and thirst in our OT lesson for this Sunday from 1 Kings and our Gospel lesson from John. Where are you today? Hungry or sated? Thirsty or slaked? Are you being literal or more metaphorical? Where is God in all of this for you?



4 But [Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

1 Kings 19:4-8, NRSV

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
. . .

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

John 6:35, 41-51, NRSV

One of the themes that flows throughout the prophetic ministry of Elijah and the ministry of Jesus is that of being in need (hunger, thirst, famine) and being fed (in abundance, perpetually, forever).

In our text today Elijah is ready to die. He has had enough (of everything, not talking the abundance of food here). Even though he has been miraculously fed by ravens just two chapters ago, even though he was instrumental in defeating the 450 prophets of Baal just one chapter ago, even though..., even though... Elijah falls asleep and is awakened by room service compliments of an angel. There is bread and water there for him. I'm a little surprised that water wasn't wine (or turned into wine) but nevertheless a meal was there. Elijah was strengthened enough for forty days and forty nights from that meal. Reminiscent of another person we know who went without food and drink for 40 days in the desert.

Jesus is talking in this Sunday's gospel lesson about bread. He says that whoever believes will live forever. Jesus promises that whoever believes will neither hunger nor thirst. This is an interesting promise from one who hungered after fasting for forty days in the desert. This is an interesting promise from one who cried out "I thirst!" from the cross. How can one who suffered hunger and thirst himself promise to spare others from the same? Jesus endured temptation to turn stones into faux bread--he knew what the real food was and from where it was to come. He was taunted with the faux wine at the end of a stalk of hyssop on a sponge--he knew what the real wine was and from where it was to come. Jesus endured counterfeit communion elements in order to bring us into full communion with God.

Perhaps Jesus can promise us lasting food and drink precisely because he knows the emptiness of the bread and wine of this world--the "bread" of the desert (not manna) and the "wine" of the cross. He invites all to the table. He eats with the unwashed. He drinks with the unworthy. He makes them holy as he breaks bread and pours wine with them. We are just as unwashed and unworthy as any. Jesus invites us to the feast. Any of us who eat the bread he offers and drinks the wine he serves are given life eternal.

God, help us eat what you give and drink what you pour. Strengthen us for the days ahead--be they 2 or 40 or 687. And strengthen our faith unto live everlasting. Amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

e-vo for week of July 22

Dearest e-votees,

There is one, and only one, miracle that Jesus performs that is captured in all four of the canonical gospels--the feeding of the 5,000. In the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday the assigned gospel reading is John's account.



1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

John 6:1-21, NRSV

We spent the last 10 days on a trip to Detroit (for the ELCA Youth Gathering). There were some 30,000 youth and adults who converged on the Motor City to learn and grow in the faith. In addition to spiritual feeding there was need for the more ordinary kind of feeding as well. It is amazing watching and participating in the logistics of feeding large hordes of people. I am always amazed that 30,000 are able to commune during the closing worship of the gathering.

Now back that gathering up 2,000 years or so. Jesus is teaching the crowds and it is time to feed the people. There are 5,000 folks. Philip suggests that it would take 200 denarii (about 200 days' wages) to buy a meager serving for each who was there. Andrew checks the pantry and all that there is a couple fish and five loaves. That wouldn't be enough to sate the disciples let alone the 5,000 more. Jesus in action lives out Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" saying without a word "Don't believe me? Just watch."

All are fed. As much as they wanted. And when the remnants are collected there are 12 baskets full. I imagine each of the apostles carrying a bus basket and thinking "How did what would have not even filled the bottom of this basket become enough to fill this basket plus 11 others plus feed this hungry throng?"

If we stop here this is a picture of God's abundant and gracious blessings. This is of the same genetic stuff of the manna in the desert, Elijah and Elisha feeding many with little, the wedding at Cana, the feeding of the 4,000, etc., etc. The take away would be something along the lins of God can take from little and make for much. It is not about what we bring but about the God who blesses and multiplies. Your little is not too little; Gods plenty is more than enough for all.

But the story goes on and has the crowd try to force Jesus to be king. The people want their bread and circuses. Jesus provides both with the miraculous production of food. The people want food. The people want entertainment. Jesus wants something so much more. Jesus wants to feed the people spiritually. Jesus wants the people to turn from the vain entertainments of this world towards a deeper connection with God. He refuses to meet the demands of the crowd and withdraws.

How aware are we of God's abundance for us? How often do we try to contain those blessings in some sort of prosperity gospel that meets our baser needs but neglects the needs that are most crucial? Do we chase after Jesus only to case him up and away into the mountains? Or do we receive what Jesus blesses us with trusting that there is more that is deeper for us as we grow as disciples?

God, stir us to be people who receive what you bless us with gratefully. Help us follow where you would lead and enter into relationship with you on your terms. Amen.