Thursday, February 26, 2015

e-vo for week of February 25

Dearest e-votees-

As we draw deeper into Lent our gospel text for this Sunday has Jesus telling his disciples about the trajectory he is on--suffering, rejection, death (in short, the cross). He also reveals that he will not remain dead. Peter pushes back. Jesus pushes back harder. Where are we when it comes to our plans versus God's plans when push comes to shove?



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 8:31-38, NRSV

There are the things of God--the divine. There are the things of people--the human. There are times when those may be in synch. There are times when they seem diametrically opposed. How is that we are to discern which is which?

Peter will have none of this talk from Jesus about suffering, rejection and death. Perhaps Peter didn't sign up to be on the losing side. Perhaps Peter is afraid that what happens to Jesus might befall his followers as well (which, in fact, it did--church tradition holds that 11 of the 12 apostles died premature and violent deaths). Perhaps Peter's understanding of the Messiah was not robust enough to make room for redemption through the cross and the empty tomb. Whatever Peter's qualms with Jesus' revelation were they prompted him to pull Jesus aside and attempt a redirect.

Jesus rebuked Peter's rebuke (threebuked?). Jesus tells Peter that his mind is not on the divine realms but the human realms. Jesus pointedly says that his followers must take up their crosses and follow after him. In losing our lives life is found. In denying ourselves to follow after Christ our truest self comes to the fore--we enter into what we were created to be. I am reminded of the oft-quoted line from the journal of Jim Elliot (a modern day martyr): "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." (check out source of quote). The call on us is to forsake the things that distract us from God. In the losing is the finding. In the forgoing is the blessing. In the death is the life. These are truths that run contrary to our human ways.

How do we let the divine enter into our thoughts and ways? Perhaps through prayer. Perhaps through scripture. Perhaps through community that challenges and abrades us from time to time. Perhaps in lingering in that quote from Jim Elliot. Perhaps in the cross. Which is why we sojourn that way in this season of Lent.

God, make our ways more like your own. Give us courage to embrace what you reveal and to seek you more than any other charm or shadowy counterfeit. Amen.

Monday, February 9, 2015

e-vo for week of February 11

Dearest e-votees-

We are to the other bookend of Epiphany--Transfiguration Sunday. The voice that speaks on the mountaintop to James, John, Peter, Moses, Elijah and Jesus echoes the words spoken at Jesus' baptism. Epiphany begins and ends with the spoken revelation of God's beloved Son Jesus.



2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Mark 2:2-9, NRSV

This account exemplifies a private revelation about God to the inner, inner circle. The four fishing partners less Andrew are brought up onto the mountain. They see Jesus take on an other worldly glow. They see Jesus talking to the exemplar of the Law (Moses) and the exemplar of the Prophets (Elijah). They find themselves awestruck as well as terrified. They are enveloped in a cloud and hear the voice from Jesus' baptism again. That was apparently the pinnacle moment as everything returns to normal just after that statement.

Jesus orders the three to tell no one about what they had seen until Jesus had risen from the dead. Apparently someone eventually told Mark. Presumably the story started circulating from these three after Jesus had risen from the dead.

This story is one part other-worldly bizarre, one part symbolic fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and one part matching literary bookend to the baptism (which we conveniently use in the lectionary as our bookends to the season of Epiphany).

What purpose does this serve? Is it to bolster the nascent faith of the fishermen three? Is it to bolster Jesus' resolve as he enters more fully into his ministry? (Luke's account has Jesus discussing with the other luminaries his upcoming departure in Jerusalem aka the cross) Is it for our sake to help us deepen our faith and make connections between Jesus and the Old Testament? It is hard to know for sure.

One thing is sure, however. The voice that iterates and reiterates "This is my beloved son" would speak to us too. We have been adopted through baptism into renewed relationship and rebirth in Jesus. In faith we hear "This is my beloved daughter" or "This is my beloved son" as God continues to speak. Through the Son of Man rising from the dead we are transferred into the family of God. We need not be terrified of God's presence. We are joined into that presence through Jesus. Thanks be to God.

God, continue to reveal yourself in our lives. Bolster our faith, speak of your love to us and use us to proclaim Jesus crucified and risen that others might come to faith too. Amen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

e-vo for week of February 4

Dearest e-votees-

Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.
~ St. Francis of Assisi

They are necessary, tell them about Jesus.
~ James Burtness of Luther Seminary

How do we carry ourselves in the world, in word and in deed, so that others can hear of the good news of Jesus Christ? What things might we do in order to help us be more effective in preaching Christ? What things might we not do in order to help us be more effective? How might we change and adapt to be better bearers of the gospel? What must never change or be forsaken in our attempts to have the gospel heard through our lives?

This week's epistle lesson helps us understand Paul's thinking on these important questions.



16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23, NRSV

If we truly understand how we have been freed and forgiven on the cross then we would hopefully wish to spread that freedom and forgiveness to others as well. If we have been invited to the great banquet feast then hopefully we would bring a guest or two with us to the banquet which has no end and which we could never begin to deserve. If the gospel is good news for us only we haven't really been fully transformed yet. God's grace is too big to keep to ourselves.

So what are we willing to be or become in order to bear that good news to the world? Paul says that he has become all things to all people so that some might be saved. He ticks off a selection of ways that he has carried himself in the world to bring the good news to a variety of people. What circles do you inhabit? What subsets of humanity do you call your own? How can God use you in those circles to bear the light of Christ? What new circles may God be leading you into? Is there anywhere you would not go for Christ? Where would you not go? Why not? (just something to think and pray about)

What traits and self-understandings are integral to who you are? What aspects do you understand to be yours and given to you by God? While Paul speaks as if he was a social chameleon for the sake of the gospel there was a core to him that was not shaken. What are your core values? What are your core beliefs? When all the dross is burned away what of you is left in the smelting chamber--shiny and pure that bears the likeness of God? What might be your uncompromisable essence?

The thing is that the world has a remarkably good sense for detecting inauthenticity. When we carry ourselves as we truly are not the world knows. When we try to obscure what is truly bedrock in our lives the world knows. I am a little troubled by churches that strip their denominational titles away from their church identity. Perhaps it is wise as it removes stumbling blocks for entry into the community--if so, there had better be some clear presentation of beliefs through worship and teaching. Hidden agendas don't play well in the world. People aren't fond of bait and switch.

Bottom line, we should be unapologetically the sort of people and Christians that God has led us to be. Rather than apologizing (saying we're sorry) we should be making apology (giving defense of) our hope in the gospel. We do it for the sake of the gospel. We do it for the sake of the world for whom God so loved and gave up Jesus to the cross. We do it for the sake of those in the world who need that love as desperately as we do.

God, help us preach the gospel in season and out of season, in word and in deeds, among familiar circles and when surrounded by unusual circumstances and people. Help us learn how to adapt with wisdom, compassion and grace when necessary to forward the gospel. Help us cultivate resolve and courage to stand firm where compromise is not an option. Amen.