Friday, May 29, 2015

e-vo for week of May 27

Dearest e-votees,

This Sunday is when the church commemorates the Holy Trinity. Every year after the feast of Pentecost the next Sunday is “Holy Trinity Sunday”. I expect you will be hearing about the mysteries of the triune nature of God in worship on Sunday. If you want something a little tongue in cheek to that end you might like to point your browser to Lutheran Satire’s St Patrick’s Bad Analogies. If you want to experience a hauntingly beautiful song that lingers in the mysteries of the Trinity you might enjoy Spirit Garage Band’s Cherubic Hymn from their CD “Free Parking” (also on i-Tunes).

This Sunday, because it is May 31, is also the day the church commemorates the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. For this week we’ll focus on that through the lens of the appointed epistle reading.



9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;

Romans 12:9-16b, NRSV

I love the image of John the Baptist, in the womb, rejoicing in encountering his cousin who was also in the womb. Mary has just learned that she will give birth to Jesus. She also learns that Elizabeth is 6 months pregnant. Mary goes for a visit. Can you imagine the conversations between Mary who has never been with a man and is facing all sorts of condemnation for her pregnancy and Elizabeth who was thought to be barren yet has become pregnant? These women surely shared tears and laughter, fears and dreams in the three months they spent together. Mary stayed right up until Elizabeth was ready to give birth. They lingered in relationship.

What these two offered each other was genuine relationship. They lived out the Romans text above. They offered deeply rooted care and support for one another. In many ways they could relate and offered love and empathy to one another. In some ways their situations weren’t exactly the same and so they offered care and perhaps sympathy to one another. They were intentional in the giving and receiving of care and they can serve as a model to us as well.

We encounter many in need. Perhaps it is better said all we encounter are in need but we don’t always perceive those needs. We have needs too. God knows our needs (and our hopes and dreams) and responds. So very often God responds through the care of another. When we encounter ones struggling as we have we can offer deep empathy to one another. If we have walked the hard path they are walking we can offer encouragement and abiding understanding. When we are struggling we do well to find ones who have struggled like we are and draw from them as well.

Sometimes we encounter people struggling in a way that we can’t readily enter. We can still offer care. We can be authentic and not pretend to know what we don’t. We can ask questions when appropriate (although not like those of Job’s “friends”). We can linger in silence and be a ministry of presence. We can avoid being haughty and go and be with whoever whenever wherever—you know, the kind of thing Jesus did so very often.

We are brought up in our culture to be independent, self-sufficient, aloof and strong. The truth is Jesus didn’t live this way. Jesus relied on his relationship with God and made all sorts of relationships with the folks he encountered who were all viable candidates to live on the island of misfit toys. Jesus broke barriers and broke bread. Jesus loved and received love. Jesus showed compassion in his words and his actions. We need what Jesus offered. We need to offer to others what Jesus offered.

God, thank you for Jesus’ example of how to live out the Romans text above. Thanks, too, for Mary and Elizabeth’s example of how to live out that text. Bring that text to bear on us, in us and through us. Help us live in genuine relationships that bring glory to you. Amen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

e-vo for week of May 20

Dearest e-votees-

This Sunday is the high holy day of Pentecost. It is when we as the church remember the dramatic dispensation of the Holy Spirit on the newborn Christian church.

One of the optional texts for this day is the account of Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones. Sometimes this can get lost with all the excitement of Pentecost. That is too bad because it is such a vivid text.



1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Ezekiel 37:1-14, NRSV

When I think of this text I always try to imagine how it would appear in film. I sort of imagine something like what Ray Harryhausen might have created (watch Jason and the Argonauts). I can sometimes hear the bones rattling together. I can visualize the flesh and sinew being stitched across the skeletons in some strange time-lapse effect. The rush of the wind coming into the bodies and re-animating them. It would be a powerful scene indeed.

But even before Ezekiel had the chance to utter the Lutheranest of queries "What does this mean?" it is offered to him. The people who are lost and cut off will be restored. Those who are as dead shall have life again. Those who are in exile shall be returned to their own place. The Lord has spoken and the Lord will act.

How about in your life? Is there a place of dryness? Are your bones all too apparent? Do you feel cut off? Are you on soil that is not familiar nor desired? Do you feel separated from your people? Do you feel separated from your God? Are you in need of breath/spirit/wind from God? Are you wondering, as you look at the skeleton looking back at you in the mirror, "Can these bones live?"

God gave this picture not just to Ezekiel and those in exile but to us. God wants us to draw hope and inspiration (literally breathing in) from this life-giving image of the work of God's Spirit. We may not know our future but God does. God wants us to live and breathe. God wants us to hope and dream. God wants us. God has spoken. God will act.

God, thank you for Ezekiel's vision. Help our eyes drink in its fulfillment in our own lives. Amen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

e-vo for week of May 13

Dearest e-votees-

Thursday of this week, May 14, is 40 days after April 5 (Easter). This day is called Ascension in the church year. It is reported in Acts 1:1-11 as well as in Luke 24:44-53 (both accounts are appointed texts written by Luke and addressed to Theophilus (aka God-lover)). For this week's e-vo we'll linger a bit with this important day of the church year.



1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:1-11, NRSV

Jesus lingered with the apostles showing them that he was indeed alive. He spent those forty days speaking about the kingdom of God as well. Luke would have delighted me more had some of those signs and teachings been recorded. As part of that time Jesus told his disciples to wait until the gift of the Holy Spirit had come. In the Luke text it talks about the disciples being "clothed with power from on high." We understand this to be Pentecost which is 10 more days (50 days after Easter).

Jesus charges the apostles to bear witness in the immediate area (Jerusalem), to familiar folks who lie further out (Judea) and to those with whom tensions exist (Samaria) all the way to places they have yet to go (to the ends of the earth). Church tradition traces out just how far the apostles went, after Pentecost, bearing the good news of the gospel. After charging them to be witnesses Jesus ascends.

The apostles are looking up--probably with mouths gaping--trying to figure out what just happened. Two men in white robes (perhaps people, perhaps other-worldly messengers) tell them to stop staring up into the heavens and to refocus. Do you think we ever get so heavenly focused that we forget what is immediately around us that God has called us to tend? I am reminded of Sister Act where the congregation is so focused on trying to sustain themselves and survive (gaping upward) that they seemed to profoundly neglect what was immediately around them. One of the pivotal scenes is when the nuns press out of the safety of the church and into the neighborhood. In venturing out they encounter people fashioned in God's image and even, if you buy Matthew 25, Jesus himself. That movie has much to say to us. Do we have ears to hear?

God, thank you for your abiding Holy Spirit. Help us allow you to abide in us and to draw our attention towards our neighbors as well as towards you. Help us love you with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Help us love you above all others. Amen.

Friday, May 8, 2015

e-vo for week of May 6

Dearest e-votees-

The featured word for love in the first few verses of our appointed text is the same one that was part of our focus last week. The word is about a sacrificial love. It says more about the lover than it does the beloved. It is the love of John 3:16. It is the love of a foot-washing, cross-bound savior. It is the love of one who lays down his life for his friends. It is a love in which Jesus tells his disciples and us to abide.

Will we remain in that sort of love?



9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

John 15:9-17, NRSV

Some think that being a person of faith is all about following rules. Do this. Don't do that. Eat that. Don't eat this. Pray this way. Don't worship that way. For any who have earnestly tried to draw near through learning and following rules they know intimately the emptiness and difficulty of doing such a thing can become painfully palpable. Luther realized he couldn't do it. Until grace broke through he was a tormented soul. We can't do it either. In the meantime, while we try self-deludingly, we find ourselves tearing ourselves and others down who don't, in our estimation, measure up.

The truth is we can't earn, merit or obey ourselves into right relationship with God. How we find ourselves in right relationship with God is to abide with God's sacrificial love. We abide in the salvation offered in the cross. We abide in a God who chooses us and calls us friend. We abide in a God who lay's down God's own life for our sake. We are called to love like that. We are to set aside serving only ourselves for the sake of God. We are to lay aside serving only ourselves for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

It is in dwelling in that love that God's joy might be in us. It is in fully embracing that love that our joy may be complete. As we are rooted in that love God can bring fruit from our lives. Fruit that will last. Fruit that will sustain and delight others. It is a love that lasts through the cross to the life on the other side.

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.