Wednesday, March 25, 2015

e-vo for week of March 25

Dearest e-votees-

Last week we emphasized how we welcome visitors. What do we do? What do we say? What truths do we tell?

This week's gospel text focuses on how Jesus is received. What do the people do? What do the people say? What truths are revealed?



1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, [Jesus] sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 11:1-11, NRSV

Jesus sends his disciples to prepare his ride. The colt and the pathway were covered with cloaks. Leafy branches were put in his pathway as well. This Jesus was lifted up from the common earth and the burden of walking as he was honored coming into the city.

This entrance brings about images of royal porters bearing a member of the royal family. It evokes images of the ark of the covenant being moved from place to place. It reminds some of a conquering military leader returning from victory in battle (perhaps with humiliated and vanquished foes as part of the procession). It even may bring up images of ticker-tape parades for returning astronauts or newly crowned sports champions or other heroes. The people are taking what is at their disposal and honoring and lifting up Jesus at the start of the holiest of weeks.

How quickly the crowd will turn on Jesus. Rather than putting coats in his path he will be dressed up in in purple and crown of thorns in mockery. The palm branches will be replaced by a plant stalk lifting up a sponge full of bitter wine. The "Hosannas" will be swapped out with "Crucify him" and the "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" will be swapped with "Take him away and give us Barabbas instead." Palm Sunday deteriorates in a matter of days into the horror of Good Friday.

In the middle of that, however, Jesus who is fully aware of where he is and where he is headed chooses to celebrate the first communion. In the middle of that Jesus chooses to take basin and towel and demonstrate humility knowing that the cross is seeking to vanquish him. With the hollow accolades of Palm Sunday fading into the barbaric taunts and condemnations of Good Friday Jesus prays for unity for his followers and for all who will come to belief because of their testimony.

My hope and prayer is that you will linger in the hard and gracious places of Holy Week. You might find "Making Room for the Immensities" by Rob Bell interesting to ponder as you journey through this important week leading up to Easter. Jesus has fully come into this world and done what we could not. May the immensity of that good news through the cross and out of the empty tomb sustain us always.

God, thank you for always being with us. Help us be attentive to being with you during this Holy Week. Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2015

e-vo for week of March 18

Dearest e-votees-

How is the church to go about welcoming seekers and visitors? This Sunday's appointed text offers a little juxtaposition to how churches often go about welcoming new folks.



20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die

John 12:20-33, NRSV

Our gospel text for this Sunday has some Greeks who are interested in seeing Jesus. They approach Philip. Philip enlists Andrew. Philip and Andrew go and tell Jesus.


to modern times at a church near you--perhaps yours

A new visitor walks into the church. They want to know more about the church. They approach an usher named Philip. Philip enlists Andrea, the hospitality coordinator. Philip and Andrea take the visitor to the welcome desk. "Hello, we're so glad you're here." They proceed to tell the visitor about all of the programs they have at the church. They give some welcome brochures, a coffee mug with the church logo and a cute little bag labeled "Holy Grounds" with a pot's worth of gourmet beans. They also give a fresh loaf of bread and a warm invitation to come in for fellowship hour. "Please make sure to let us know whatever we can do for you. We would love to be of service to you and your family. This church is all about being alive!!!"


to Jesus' time in Jerusalem around Passover time again,

Jesus seeing the new people continues with his teaching: "The time has come for me to be crucified." (what "glorified" means in the Gospel of John) "I have to die in order for fruit and new life to be born. My servants need to be about the same rhythm of death and life. Those who want to be part of me must take up their crosses and follow after me." The Bible neglects to record what the response by the Greeks was.


back to modern times to the welcome desk.

The visitor starts looking over the gifts, the wares, the enticements and the programs. "How does this church stack up against the other three I have visited this month? What's here for me. What do I get when I sign onto membership here? What does this have to improve my life?"


Questions to ponder:

1. How did we move so far from "take up your cross" to "here's your swag bag"?

2. Is it a victory for the church and/or the kingdom of God if they stay for the wrong reasons?

3. What does it mean to center our welcome around the foot of the cross?

God, forgive us for making your church look so much like the world. Help us abide in you and welcome those who come seeking to see the real Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

e-vo for week of Mark 11

Dearest e-votees-

This week's epistle lesson is a Lutheran cornerstone (particularly Ephesians 2:8-9). May God help us order our days and our ways on such a strong foundation.



1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Ephesians 2:1-10, NRSV

God calls life out of death. That is the good news. It is the good news of the first Easter. It is the good news in our baptisms. It is the good news that continues to this day.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote that the greatest love is to reverence the dead because they can't do anything in return. God demonstrates the greatest love by coming into a sinful and death-filled world bringing forgiveness and life. God showed us great love by calling us back to life from death.

Jesus says that there is no greater love than one that lays down that one's life for the sake of another. Jesus lived and died that great love for us and for many. God, as Jesus, demonstrates the greatest love by willingly going to the cross on our behalf. He was lifted up that all who might gaze on him would be saved (see Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21). God showed us great love by laying down his live and being lifted up on the cross.

God chose to save us when we were dead. That is grace. That grace becomes active through our faith. We are not able to have faith without God, as the Holy Spirit, working belief in us. We are saved by God's doing which becomes active by belief which is God's doing to live and serve with good works God has prepared for us.

God has brought us from death into a holy life. All we can do is learn to skip the "Look at me! Look at me!" of our old Adam and old Eve--and become more like John the Baptist saying "Look at God! Look at God!"

God, you have blessed us. Let us live in response with a life that brings glory to you. Amen.

Friday, March 6, 2015

e-vo for week of March 4

Dearest e-votees-

This week's assigned OT text is the 10 Commandments. May we be blessed as we ponder those instructions from God.



1 Then God spoke all these words:

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:1-17, NRSV

I was recently at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Beaverton for a meeting. As I was walking around the narthex I encountered a beautiful art installation. It was a representation of the 10 Commandments by Ernst Schwidder. If you would like to see a picture, send me an e-mail and I'll sent you a .JPG. You can best reach me at

The installation was a corner mounted wooden carving. One panel had "Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" around the top of the panel. Inside the panel was "I II III IV". The second panel had "Love your neighbor as yourself" around the top of the panel with "V VI VII VIII IX X" inside the panel. The wood is a deep, rich brown. The carving is done such that all of the wood is taken away so the words and the Roman numerals jut out. This is typical of the carvings of Ernst Schwidder.

Each panel was one of the tablets of the law. The first four Commandments pertain to our relationship with God (or maybe three depending on how you parse them out). That is why the "Love the Lord..." is carved on the top. The next six (or maybe seven commandments depending on how you parse them out) pertain to our relationships with others. That is why the "Love your neighbor..." is carved on the top. Jesus said that if we do these things that we will fulfill the Law and the Prophets.

The truth is we can't live out those Commandments. As we ponder and meditate on them more deeply we become more and more mired. Jesus amplified "You shall not murder" to "You shall not get angry with another". Jesus amplified "You shall not commit adultery" to "You shall not lust after another". We can't meet the incredible standard for holiness that God commands and that Jesus exemplifies. Thanks be to God that Jesus could. Jesus lived the life we cannot. Jesus took the punishment for transgression of the Law upon himself even though he did not deserve that punishment.

What is left for us to do except accept God's salvation by grace through faith (in what Jesus has done) which leaves us no room for boasting. Having been saved God can help us do better at loving God and loving neighbor. When our time to leave this earth comes all we can say is that we deserve no praise for we have only done what we ought to have been doing the whole time.

The best way that we can give thanks and live graciously toward God is to make room for others who have struggled with us. May we always point to the one who has freed us from the impossibility of salvation through law-abiding living--Jesus.

God, thank you for Jesus doing what we cannot. Now that we have been freed help us do what we cannot even imagine all to the glory of God. Amen.