Wednesday, April 29, 2015

e-vo for week of April 29

Dearest e-votees-

There is a test for our progress in growing into God's desire for us:

It isn't how many Bible verses we know (although growing in our familiarity with scripture isn't a bad thing). It isn't how often we go to church or how often we participate in Bible study (although such practices are good and salutary). It isn't how much money or talent or time we offer to God (at least not directly).

It is our love for God and love for neighbors. As we love, we abide in God. Easy to say but can be mighty hard to live out.



7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7-21, NRSV

The call on us to love is a deep and hard call. The word that is used for love in the Greek is one that conveys a sacrificial love. It is a love that says more about the lover and not so much about the beloved. It is a love most clearly offered to us from God on the cross. It is a love that Jesus was talking about when he told his followers to take up their crosses. It is a love that Jesus was showing us when he washed the feet of all in the room including the betrayer and the denier. It is the love that can be hard to see looking at some modern day folks who claim to be serving God:

It doesn't look like Westboro Baptist Church toting "God hates fags!" signs at military funerals.

It doesn't look like people of faith amassing huge personal treasure troves and neglecting their hurting neighbors (remember the rich man and the beggar Lazarus?).

It doesn't look like people scrutinizing others under the lens of certain scriptures while excusing their own behaviors which violate others scriptures they are willing to ignore for their own benefit.

It doesn't look like people exploiting resources thoughtlessly for their own benefits while neglecting the needs and hopes and dreams of others also made in God's image.

It doesn't look like those who profess their undying love for God while stepping on or by their neighbors who lay dying on the road having been assaulted or neglected or shunned.

How God stirs us to love our brothers and sisters may look different from one of us to another but it is something God hopes and desires for all of us. And what God hopes and desires for us God can certainly help bring into being and sustain in us.

God, thank you for your love. Please help us grow in that love. Teach us to love neighbors, enemies and strangers. In doing that help us to learn to love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

e-vo for week of April 22

Dearest e-votees-

One of the most familiar images of Jesus is that of the good shepherd. This Sunday's appointed text is the source of that image. Also appointed for this Sunday is the familiar 23rd Psalm.

There is little talk about the quality or the worthiness of the sheep. The emphasis is rather on the love and the care demonstrated by the shepherd. Sometimes we get sidetracked worrying about how faithful and how lovable we are. We would do better to focus on how faithful and loving God is to us.



11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

John 10:11-18, NRSV

Jesus loves us. We may know this because the Bible tells us so but in these verses we see the extent of that love. The good shepherd, Jesus, lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus tells us in John 15:13 that there is no greater love than one who lays down life for friends. Jesus has called us and all who would come to be his friends. He shows us the extent of his love by laying down his life for us. Jesus loves us. The love is not the flowery, romantic, "what's in it for me?" sort of love the world sometimes foists on us. It is a love that enters into the dirty, broken parts of existence and pulls us out. There are wolves roaming about and Jesus puts himself in harm's way that we might be saved. Jesus loves us.

Jesus knows us. We are fully known before God. There is no reason nor sense for pretense. We are laid bare before God. The good news is that God loves us fully even as we are fully known. The intimacy of God's knowledge of us is tied to God's intimate love of us. Jesus' prayer in John 17 is that all of his followers would be one as he and the Father are one. Jesus loves the sheep of this fold and others are coming too. We should be open and ready to accept other sheep as God has so graciously accepted us. We are part of a flock that transcends national boundaries, generations and all manner of separations we who were forged in God's image tend to erect. Jesus knows us.

Jesus gives all for us. Because of Jesus love for us and because of the fullness of Jesus' knowledge of us Jesus gives all for us. In Philippians 2:5-11 Jesus puts aside his place as God and takes on being a slave. He enters into the world and endures all that we choose to inflict upon him. He is rejected, judged, beaten, whipped, crucified, died and buried. We did all we could to beat away God's persistent love and knowledge. That is the bad news of Good Friday. But Jesus knew that Easter was part of the plan. Jesus returns. The good news of Easter trumps the darkness of Good Friday. He speaks peace and forgiveness. He restores Peter--a proxy for all of us and all of our betrayals and denials. He breathes the Holy Spirit into us--his followers. He blesses us. He continues to demonstrate his knowledge of us and his love for us. Jesus gives all for us.

God, thank you for the love, knowledge and sacrifice that Jesus offers us. Help us humbly accept our place in the flock and eagerly welcome all who come to the fold. Amen.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

e-vo for week of April 15

Dearest e-votees-

My apologies that this is coming out so late in the week. Between preparing to change houses, getting ready to be out of the office for 10 days and the general chaos of life (including our beloved boy who just had his half birthday) I have found it increasingly hard to stay on a regular writing and posting schedule.

I imagine one of these days I'll just put this project to rest but for now I am grateful for your patience and offer you a belated reflection on this week's appointed gospel text.



36b Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

John 24:36b-48, NRSV

Some Biblical texts are ones we read and ponder from afar. The stories, the characters and the events are alien to us. We may find revelation and guidance in the stories but it is not something we have personally experienced.

And then there are texts like this week's gospel text that even though it describes a particular happening in a particular place distant in location and time it speaks to us now. Even in our brokenness and our disbelief the Holy Spirit can give us, and does, entry ways into the story. I would submit that this appointed text has much to say about why we should continue to and what God helps us to experience in worship.

In honor of the soon retiring David Letterman we'll do this Top 10 style.

Top 10 Ways the Gospel is Experienced in Worship
(in order of experience in worship more than in order of importance)

Number 10: Jesus Stands Among Us Where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name he is especially present. We gather among many reasons to have an encounter with the crucified and risen Christ and the repentance and forgiveness available in his name that we cannot have alone.

Number 9: Message of Repentance and Forgiveness (with God) We have confession and absolution early in the service. We begin worship remembering that God comes to us offering forgiveness and right relationship. We are reminded and assured of God's unfailing love towards us and towards all peoples.

Number 8: Peace (with God) The first words out of Jesus' mouth in our gospel text are "Peace be with you." Jesus stands among us in worship and speaks that to us as well. We are reconciled and at peace with God. It seems to be one of the key messages from Jesus in many of his post-resurrection appearances.

Number 7: Moses, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel We hear from the Holy Scriptures of God's Law and God's Gospel. We are reminded of God's hopes and God's corrections for God's people. We are ultimately reminded of God coming in to do what we could not or would not through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The sermon hopefully conveys such things as well in an accessible form.

Number 6: Having heard the story we are a variety of responses: joyful, disbelieving, full of wonder, etc., etc. After having encountered scripture and the message we find ourselves in all sorts of places. We might be encouraged and renewed. We might find it all too good to be true and struggle with disbelief ("Lord, I believe help my unbelief"). We may find the message wonderful but the messenger untrustworthy. We may have many questions stoked and receive what was conveyed with wonder. There are a wide variety of ways that we can experience scripture and the proclaimed message and many of those are works of the Holy Spirit.

Number 5: Showing Scars, Intimacy, Trust and Recognition As the scripture does its work upon us and as we honestly respond we may have experiences of being laid bare before one another. Pretense and pure self-interest fall to the side and we are able to recognize Christ in one another. We can become aware of how we have done willful harm or thoughtlessly neglected one another.

Number 4: Repentance and Forgiveness (with each other) Jesus said that all of the Law and the Prophets could be summed up by loving God and loving neighbor. This is a place in our worship where we can realize we haven't loved our neighbor as ourselves and ask God to help us to do otherwise. We can also open our hearts to forgive those who haven't loved us as their selves as well.

Number 3: Peace (with each other) We share a sign of peace and perhaps proclaim "Peace be with you." The traditional understanding of shaking right hands is to demonstrate that no weapon is being wielded. As we reach our and touch and speak to each other with gestures of peace we affirm and live into what Jesus has worked for us. If we cannot love and forgive those immediately before us than it seems unlikely that we have truly experienced the full measure of God's love and forgiveness for us.

Number 2: Meal of Faith, Belief and Assurance Jesus ate broiled fish to demonstrate that he was alive and not some apparition. We gather at the table of communion to experience that same risen Christ. We gather with those with whom we may have been estranged. We gather with joy, disbelief and full of wonder. We are assured that this gift is "for us" and "for the forgiveness of sins" as Luther says in the Small Catechism. We welcome all who come to the table reserving judgment for we know, all too well, how unworthy we are to eat at the table save by God's grace.

And the number one (in sequence not in importance) way we experience the Gospel in worship:

Number 1: We are Equipped and Sent for Mission We are proclaimed and sent to be witnesses of the things we have heard, seen and otherwise experienced. The world needs what Jesus offers. We are beggars who have been fed and are invited to bring others to the meal. The church and the worship service aren't meant to shield and protect us so much as to equip and release us. Maybe our job is to go and share this Top 10 List with others just like some might recount Letterman's Top 10 at the water cooler at work. There are many, including us, who need what God brings to us in Jesus. Dare we tell them?

God, thank you so much for a gospel that we, at times, can taste, touch, hear and see. Strengthen our faith and our witness. Use us in ways that draw many to you. Amen.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

e-vo for week of April 8

Dearest e-votees-

The tomb is empty but the disciples still aren't so very assured in the resurrection hope. How is our faith doing in these days just after Easter?



19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31, NRSV

Jesus twice in these 13 verses walks through locked and shut doors to enter into where his disciples have barricaded themselves. They left him alone on the cross and he comes and finds them in the aftermath. They had breathed promises of loyalty to the end but in the end he was the one breathing the Holy Spirit back into them. The marks of his death become some of the first marks of his resurrected life. Jesus is about the business of undoing doubt, fear and unbelief.

Twice in his first appearance and once in his second appearance he speaks a word of "Peace." Jesus has broken down the hostility between us and God. Jesus has torn the veil. Jesus has come down to us since we have always been so very poor at ascending to heaven. Jesus continues to speak of peace and forgiveness and belief in the very face of fear and self-loathing of the disciples.

We are blessed. We have come to belief through the same Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed into his disciples. Their bold proclamations and lives of testimony and service have led us into the holy accounts of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Surely there is more that could have been written. At times, with some of the scant recountings of Jesus' life, I think there was more that should have been written. But the disciple whom Jesus loved assures us that what was written so that we might come to belief.

May God's peace sustain us and the Holy Spirit continue to breathe faith into our doubt, courage into our fears, and blessed assurance into our disbelief.

God, keep walking through the ways we try to keep you. We so need your peace. Amen.