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.