Thursday, September 24, 2015

e-vo for week of September 23

Dearest e-votees,

This week's gospel text says a lot about what we shouldn't do but also much about what we should do. Unfortunately our tendency is often to avoid doing the wrong rather than also hearing the strong call to do what is right.



38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Mark 9:38-50, NRSV

When we went to Israel and Palestine during my senior year in seminary one of our stops was in the town of Kursi. There was an abundance of basaltic lava stone in the area. It was a heavy, rough-surfaced volcanic rock that was used to make millstones and olive presses. The millstone is a heavy, heavy stone that is attached to an axle and rolled around (pushed by people or beasts of burden) to crush wheat into flour. You can still see massive millstones laying around the remains to Kursi to this day--simply stunning. When Jesus says that it would be better to have a GREAT millstone (not even just a small millstone) hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea rather than putting a stumbling block in front of others that is a serious statement. Perhaps it makes us want to shy away from interacting with others lest we somehow cause them to stumble.

Jesus goes on to say about how we are better to maim and disfigure ourselves in order to behave righteously than to enter with bodies intact into the fires of judgment.

These sayings are hyperbolic. Jesus isn't telling us to tie millstones around our necks or others. He isn't telling us to pluck out our eyes or lop off our limbs. Some have taken these teachings literally and done just that. When we are exceedingly literal with holy writings with no discernment very bad things can happen. We would all do well to pray for better understandings and to work together to help interpret and shape our practices derived from scriptures.

In the Greek there is what is called primitive alpha. In English is shows up as the prefix a-. We use it to negate the meaning of what follows. Apathy is a- + pathy and means lack of feeling. Amorphous is a- + morphous and means lack of having shape. Atheist is a- + theist and is one who lacks a belief in God (or believes there is no god). I think Jesus ends telling us not to be asalty (a- + flavorful or preserving or enhancing). The world needs flavor. It needs preserving agents. It needs things that bring out the best in others. That is part of our call as Christians.

Of course we should not be assaultive. When we intentionally cause harm to others or cause them to suffer there are dire consequences in store for us and for those others. This seems basic. But we are also not to be asaltive. It isn't sufficient to lurk passively and pacifistically in the shadows. We are called to engage the world. We are to be a light and to be salt. We are to take what God has given us (our gifts, our passions, the gospel, ...) and take it out into the world to bring flavor and seasoning, preservation and salvation. The consequences are pretty dire if we choose to negate our saltiness.

God, make us to be salty people in a world that can be bland, rotting and just getting by. Help us to never obscure the goodness you have put in us and called us to be in the world. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 467th post since I started using the URL in 2007). It has been a challenge, as you may have noticed, to publish regularly each Wednesday. I am planning to continue on to 500 posts and then take a substantial if not permanent break from writing this devotion series. My hope and prayer is that this has been a blessing to you. Thank you for reading them and the encouraging comments that have come my way.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

e-vo for week of Setpember 16

Dearest e-votees,

This week we get another prediction from Jesus about the way of the cross. No one rebukes him this week, perhaps they learned from Peter's exchange last week. But Jesus shows them a way very different from the world to be "the greatest".



30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:30-37, NRSV

Jesus calls on his disciples asking them what they were arguing about as they walked. They chose to keep it to themselves since they were busy trying to decide which of them was the best disciple--and probably arguing in their own favor. We're like them aren't we? We want to be a great disciple. We hope we are a great disciple. When we look at others we see their flaws quite clearly and look over our own. I'm pretty sure Jesus was talking to us, as well, when he taught about taking the plank out of your own eye before taking the speck out of the eye of another. We are just as prone to wrongly argue about which disciples are the greatest.

Jesus goes on later in John to show the disciples and us the true example of a servant. When he was at the Passover meal with his disciples just before he was to be betrayed, arrested, condemned and crucified he got up from the meal. He took a basin and a towel and washed the feet of all who were present--the denier and the betrayer and all the rest. Were we there he would have certainly washed our feet as well. In spite of our self-promotion and judgment of others--probably precisely because of those--he breaks through with an example of humility, service and sacrifice.

We want to be big and important and full of prestige. Jesus takes a little one--one who is small and not so important and not so full of prestige--and says that if we want to engage and welcome Jesus it is through engaging and welcoming one such as this. We are noticed and regarded not so much for what we do but for who we lavish notice and recognition upon. We find ourselves and our place by losing ourselves, finding others and giving them their proper place. It isn't how the world does it but perhaps that is precisely the point.

God, thank you for making us your children. Help us recognize, welcome, affirm and honor all of your children. Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

e-vo for week of September 9

Dearest e-votees,

The world has all sorts of ideas about who Jesus is or might be. C.S. Lewis thought it boiled down to three options: a liar, a lunatic or just who he claimed to be. Who do you say that he is? Is your understanding of divine origin or human?



27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

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 8:27-38, NRSV

How do you sort out just who this Jesus is? There were all sorts of theories in Jesus' time including one of the prophets of old, maybe even Elijah. Or perhaps he was John the Baptist back from the dead (I don't know how that works when they met at the river Jordan--some sort of resurrection/time travel paradox). Others thought he was a liar. Others a lunatic. Others a blasphemer. How do you draw your conclusions about this one?

From human reasoning it is hard to get to the place of confessing Jesus as Lord--as God enfleshed. Even if somehow we get to the place of understanding Jesus to be the Messiah--the savior in the line of David to bring salvation--it is hard to go along from that revelation to Jesus' "exultation" on the cross. The story doesn't fall within the confines of human reason. Peter was sensible in kicking against the path that Jesus had mapped out. Peter tried to quietly rebuke Jesus. Jesus would have none of it and publicly rebuked Peter. Jesus had come to understand the divine plan that involved painful death on a cross trumped by the empty tomb.

Jesus then extends the call to the cross to his disciples. If we want to follow Jesus then self denial and bearing crosses is our lot. If we try to cling to our life in our own power we will end up like any disappointed hoarder at the end of The Twilight Zone. We try to hang on to life in our own ways and understanding and we end up with dusty hands clutching regret. Jesus says that we need to lose our lives for his sake. We may lose the world but we will gain far greater. Perhaps the best summary is found in the words of Jim Elliot's journal who was martyred January 8, 1956:

He is no fool who gives what he
cannot keep to gain that which
he cannot lose.

God, lead us to our crosses, draw us in your ways, sustain us in our challenges and be glorified in us whether we live or whether we die. Amen.

Friday, September 4, 2015

e-vo for week of September 2

Dearest e-votees,

This week's gospel includes the exchange between Jesus and the Syrophoenecian woman. It is a powerful exchange that is also captured (in slightly expanded form) in Matthew 15:21-28.



24 From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Mark 7:24-37, NRSV

Have you ever encountered someone who you knew would not take "no" for an answer? It seems that the woman in our gospel lesson is just such a person.

Jesus is keeping a low profile. He enters a house wanted to be left alone. Along comes a Gentile woman. She had heard about Jesus and somehow found him in his hiding place. She came not for herself but for her daughter. She pleads with Jesus for help. In the Matthew account Jesus seems to ignore her until the pleading becomes unbearable. In his response he calls her a dog (very unkind remark, likening her to an unclean animal). She takes it in stride and turns the insult into an opportunity to express faith. Jesus yields and grants healing to the daughter.

When we know that something is in need of change, do we engage with the same tenacity and resilience of this woman? When our requests are turned away with laughter or insults or mocking do we flare in anger? Or do we seek in the situation the place to attest to faith? When we are seeking things are we seeking for ourselves or for the sake of others? Do we approach God with boldness and a sure and certain hope? There is a lot be learned from this woman of deep faith and tenacity. Do we have ears to hear? If not maybe we could ask Jesus to summon some spittle and speak "Ephphatha" into us.

We are just as unclean and unworthy to approach Jesus as was this woman. By polite culture and by social divisions she had no business talking to Jesus. Perhaps she knew that this was the same Jesus who breaks bread with sinners and whose disciples don't always get the traditional practices right. Whatever she knew or didn't know she wasn't going to leave without a healing word spoken towards her daughter. What if we engaged God in just such a way over all of the sons and daughters of God we see needing a healing touch? Dare we be so bold?!?

God, thank you for the abiding and tenacious faith of the woman of our gospel lesson. Give us such a faith and help us express it for the sake and healing of others. Amen.