Thursday, October 29, 2015

e-vo for week of October 28

Dearest e-votees,

God's intent is to unbind us from the things that separate us from the divinely appointed abundant life.



32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

John 11:32-44, NRSV

So much of Jesus' ministry was about unbinding and loosing and freeing. When Jesus encountered people who were bound up by religious tradition and hypocrisy that heaped burdens on them he loosed the cords and set them free. When Jesus encountered people who were captured by demonic presence or debilitating conditions or chronic conditions he chased the offending presences off and set those who had been captured free. When Jesus encountered people who were boxed in by blindness or deafness or muteness he opened the box and set them free. When Jesus encountered those who had been overshadowed by the valley of death he called them back and set them free. It takes a very select reading of Jesus' ministry to not find an abundance of reference to freedom and liberation.

This week's gospel lesson, for All Saints Day, shows the three Bethany siblings who were bound up. Mary is captured by grief and wondering where Jesus was when Lazarus died. (Martha reflected that same captivity in 1:21). She is weeping and disconsolate. Martha is also present here and is stuck in her perceptions of what is possible and what will happen. She seems more worried about the stench than engaging in just what Jesus is up to at this moment. Sometimes doing what we think best is how we try to swallow our grief. Martha, ever the one sensitive to the needs of others, is taking care of others but perhaps not engaging what she fully needs to do to move toward healing. Lazarus is bound up in grave cloths and sealed behind a stone. He is as captured as you get as death has beset him. The full consequence of our sinful and mortal nature has come to bear upon him.

Jesus enters into the scene and is brought to tears. He surely knew where this account was going (see John 11:11-15). What was it that stirred him up so? Was he grieving his friend as well? Was he grieving the pain that Mary and Martha were experiencing? Perhaps he had a sense of his own death and rising and that was weighing heavy on his soul. In truth Jesus was bound up with the fate of humanity. Jesus came to set us free but in the process he became tied into pain, mortality and isolation from our heavenly Father. Jesus took on that which we could not bear in order to give us a freedom we could not deserve. Jesus' work on the cross speaks to all who would hear "Unbind them, and let them go!" Clearly the repentant thief heard that good news. Will we let God say it to us as well?

God, we are bound up in so many ways. Sin keeps us doing that which we ought not and avoiding that which we ought. Jesus came to shatter the manacles, to cut the cord, to break the chains and to make our tombs impermanent. That which binds us is losing its grip. Thanks be to You. Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

e-vo for week of October 21

Dearest e-votees,

Psalm 46 is what is appointed for Reformation Sunday.



1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 46, NRSV

When the world seems as if it is coming apart at the seams it is easy to find some comfort in a psalm like Psalm 46. There is an assurance that even when kingdoms totter and the nations are in an uproar that God is our refuge. When 9-11 happened we held a prayer vigil service. As part of that the pastor types each selected a verse to read and to meditate upon. I was one of two who chose Psalm 46. I would expect that Psalm 46 has been on the lips of clergy in Roseburg, OR as they try to help put pieces back together after the tragic shooting. I would expect that during the persecutions throughout history of the Jews that these words have not been far from the people. And when Bonhoeffer talks about the Psalter being the prayerbook of the Bible it is not hard imagining him and other martyrs of other ages finding comfort, solace and courage in the words of this psalm. God is our refuge, our hiding place and our mighty fortress. Hence the connection with Reformation Sunday.

We long for a world where the wars come to cease. We pray for a world where the tools of war are no more. We want the river that makes glad God's city. We want God to stop the tottering and quiet the uproar. We want to know the peace--the shalom--that seems so elusive for the world. We want still peaceful waters where God will make us to lie down. We want the world to stop quaking and breaking, the polar ice and glaciers to stop calving and melting before they are beyond recovery, the streets and the theaters and the schools of our country to be places of commerce and traverse and entertainment and not crime scene after crime scene after crime scene.

So we read "Be still, and know that I am God!" Is that a divine call to inaction? Are we to still our voices and not speak up against the wrong that rears its evil head? Is our best play to sit back and watch God bring the boom? No. I believe the be still is to not let ourselves become anxious. Our salvations are sure. God's promises and word are sure. God is our refuge. So we can act. And we can speak. And we can labor for justice. And we can repent. And we can seek reconciliation. And we can proclaim "The Lord of hosts is with us" knowing that the us includes all those who chafe, annoy, bother and beset us. God is the refuge of all in trouble (which is all of us and all of them). The good news of salvation and shalom is intended for all. May we continue to pray and trust and lean on Psalm 46. God help us, everyone!

God, we are all refugees in this sin-stained, war-torn and broken down world. Bring your peace and your healing in and through us. Let none who might be touched and saved by your word be excluded. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

e-vo for week of October 14

Dearest e-votees,

This week's appointed gospel text is James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approaching Jesus asking to sit on either side of him in his glory.

One of my favorite theological re-imaginings of this encounter (and the Garasene demoniac) is in an essay called "James, John and Crazy Joe" by Gordon Atkinson. You can find it as one of the essays in by Gordon Atkinson. This book is the one I always buy copies when I can so I have them to give away to people. If you like good writing and insightful theology I urge you to add this one to your library. I will warn you that Gordon puts some off-color language in the mouths of Biblical characters. I don't think inappropriately so--just thought I should warn you. If you do track down this essay and give it a read please let me know what you think.

Bob Dylan was spot on when he crooned "Gotta Serve Somebody"--Jesus pushes back and really asks "Are you going to serve your vanity or are you going to serve all?" And as if to make sure we knew where he fell on that question he got out a basin and a pitcher and did the unthinkable on Maundy Thursday.



35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:35-45, NRSV

It is nice to be noticed and praised. All of us like a kind word, a token of appreciation or other forms of people celebrating who we are and what we have contributed. This can take on a life of its own with cutthroat competition (and often shading the boundaries of what is permissible) to take home the title. Even the explosion of participation trophies and graduations at every level for every little accomplishment run rampant. There are so many stories of public figures padding their résumés, unduly puffing out their chests and tearing at the accomplishments of others so that they might appear better in comparison. Fame and recognition become more important than truth and substance. People are measured by how many Twitter followers they have or how many likes on Facebook or how many views on YouTube. Look into the mirror and see if you don't have looking back one who wants a little more recognition and honor than might be due or healthy.

James and John (and in Matthew 20:20-28 their mother is involved as well) approach Jesus. They ask him to grant whatever they ask of him (pretty hefty request to ask God incarnate). Jesus doesn't give a blanket "Yes." but responds with a clarifying question. They want the places of honor sitting at Jesus' right and Jesus' left when he comes in his glory. Pretty bold request. Given that they were two of the inner circle of three you wonder what Peter might have thought of this? I like Gordon Atkinson's take. These men think they know how the second coming will play out (doubtful) and that they among all people who ever lived deserve the two highest seats of honor (also doubtful). I would expect that even if Jesus would have said "Yes." that they would have then argued about which deserved the best seat (presumably the right) and which deserved the lesser seat (surely). This is our old sinful selves wanting to grab and assure what is not up for grabs and certainly mysterious. It is amazing that Jesus is so calm and collected in his response.

What Jesus does is redirect to a truer meaning of being a disciple. We follow not to glob onto Jesus' glory (which in John is the cross and which comes our way too with the call to take up our cross and follow after Jesus) we follow because Jesus grants life to us. And it turns out the way for us to enter into that life is to give ourselves away in service to others. We are to take up a basin and a towel and wash the feet of others. We are to take up a soup ladle and salad tongs and load up a meal for the hungry. We are to open our wallets and purses and support the broader work of benevolent societies, particularly those with a healthy faith foundation, in service of the gospel. We are to worry less about how many letters are after our name on our business card and what accolades come our way and more about being like Jesus which looked like a self-denying slave for the sake of healing and restoration of others.

God, help us through the grace and example of Jesus be more like Jesus. Teach us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and do the sorts of things he did. And give us grace to let others serve us as well. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 470th 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.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

e-vo for week of October 7

Dearest e-votees,

Jesus calls us towards undistracted devotion. Those things that come between us and Jesus are the very things we may be called to put aside.

This kind of call is certainly beyond our ability to manage--as if threading a needle with a camel--but God is able to do far beyond what we know to be possible.

I'm grateful to our weekly text study that helped open up this text, and previous weeks' too, about our attempts to get by with the bare minima.



17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
,br> 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10:2-16, NRSV

A man kneels before Jesus and asks "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Which is another way of saying "When have I done enough to earn eternal life?" Which is another way of saying "When can I stop trying to earn eternal life?" Which is another way of saying "What do I have to do or give over in service to God and what do I get to do or keep for myself?" This young man is trying to map out when he has done enough. He has been faithful in abiding the commandments since he was young. He wants, perhaps, to slow down and take it easy. Perhaps he wants to build bigger siloes to store his abundance and eat, drink and be merry. Jesus says, loving him, that he lacks one thing--he needs to liquidate his assets and follow Jesus. Jesus pushed him beyond what he was able or willing to give and the man went away shocked and grieving.

Jesus says that it is easier to thread a needle with a camel than for a wealthy person to enter into the kingdom of God? What is your "wealth"? What is the thing that you are unable or unwilling to give up for the sake of following Jesus? What is the thing that would stymie the conversation and send you away in shock and grief? All of us are wealthy. All of us have divided hearts. What is the thing that keeps you from entering into the kingdom of heaven? What is your non-negotiable?

For all of us it is easier to push a pack-animal through a puny pinhole than it is to enter of our own accord. We can't merit the kingdom of heaven. We have things we value more than the kingdom of heaven. For all of our best intentions and efforts we can't do enough. For us it is impossible. But God is not constrained as we are. God can bring us into the kingdom of heaven. God does bring us into the kingdom of heaven.

God changes our hearts from "What's the least I can do to get by?" to "What things do you have in store in me and through me as I follow after you?" The kingdom isn't merely a matter of eternal life but of abundant life starting now that continues on to eternity. There is a profoundly deep but narrow path that leads us along the kingdom way. God loves us too much to let things remain in our lives that deter us from the path. We may be shocked and grieved at what God demands but there is always blessings and assurances that trump our temporary troubles and trepidations.

God, guide us on the path you have created for us. Help us put aside that that so easily hinders. Thank you for salvation and joy that are only possible through you. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 469th 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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

e-vo for week of September 30

Dearest e-votees,

The gospel text is a hard one. It is a hard one to read. It is a hard one to preach. It is a hard one for one who has been divorced and has remarried to read and to preach.

One of the reasons for having assigned lectionary readings is for holding our feet to the fire. It would be way too easy to routinely duck this text if I was the one making the choices for which lessons we would use. It is in abiding in our broken places that healing can come. It is in letting all of Jesus' words fall on our ears that we can best truly hear the good news--aka the gospel.



2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:2-16, NRSV

As discerned from Genesis God's intention for those who choose to get married is that they would leave their parents and become one flesh. They would enter into a lifelong partnership where both are lovers and partners and helpers for one another. The intimacy of the partnership would even trump that of their families of origin as they would leave their parents and cling to one another. As God leads and directs such holy unions people have no business separating (or "putting asunder" as some marriage liturgies say).

These intentions of God are still, I believe, at work. But we have strayed from God's intention. Just as the first man and the first woman who already were of one flesh had hard hearts and lust for knowledge of good and evil in their eyes we too are prone towards hard hearts and wanting to be the controllers of our own fates.

When Jesus says that the Pharisees have hard hearts, when it comes to divorce, he is saying that they are like Pharaoh (whose heart was constantly calcifying during the 10 plagues). Pharaoh had little regard for the misery and pain he was bringing upon the Hebrews slaves and the Egyptian people by refusing to set the Hebrew people free. His desire to control and lord his influence over the people came to disastrous results. Jesus says that it is such hearts as Pharaoh's that people wanting to expediently dismiss an inconvenient spouse have. Those who choose divorce are pushing against God's best intentions for us. We demonstrate our calcified hearts and our adulterous natures. This is indeed a hard text to read as a divorced person and to preach to a congregation with many divorced people. But Jesus holds fast to God's first intentions for marriage.

There are times when divorce may be the best option. Jesus allows it in the chase of unfaithfulness in Matthew 19. What exactly is "unfaithfulness" is interesting to ponder. Can one be unfaithful through workaholism? Can one be unfaithful by being emotionally aloof? Can one be unfaithful by spending too much time and devotion to friends? Or hobbies? Or ...? Surely there is more to unfaithfulness than just physical interactions. We could spend much time pondering when and what exactly divorce might be permissible in Jesus' eyes.

What Jesus really seems to be doing is not chastising those who have been divorced so much as speaking to those who might allow their hearts to be hardened to allow divorce. Divorce isn't a one time legal decree. Divorce is a series of hardenings and separations. God wants us to be soft of heart and seeking to be more connected with God. God wants us, who are married, to be soft of heart and seeking to be more connected with our partner. Jesus wants to stop the hardening and the separation.

The Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to commit to when divorce is appropriate. Jesus responds to the much deeper issue, which can certainly lead to divorce, of our hard hearts and our desire to sever connections. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman who had 5 husbands previously (and presumably had been divorced several times) he offered her living water and not condemnation. Perhaps we, as the church, should approach people who have abided the throes of divorce much more like Jesus.

I wouldn't wish the pain and torment of divorce on anyone. My hardness of heart and wanting to be in control certainly came into play as our marriage came undone. I will forever bear the scars from that excruciating experience. But I trust in Jesus who showed love and compassion on the woman who was caught in adultery. Jesus offers forgiveness and new starts. Jesus calls me an adulterer. But he also called Paul (nee Saul) an accomplice to murder to follow him. And he also called Peter who was quick to betray him when things got rough to follow him. And he called James and John who were partial to being noticed and recognized and exalted to follow him. And he calls me day after day to follow him. And he calls you.

Jesus calls us to have our hearts softened and to return to God. In the process our hearts will hopefully soften as we regard ourselves and others in the shadow of God's grace and new starts. That surely is some portion of the answer of Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17.

God, soften our hearts and bring us into your best desires for us your children. Give us grace and courage to minister to all who have suffered hardening and exclusion. Amen.

I have been writing these e-vos for quite some time (this is the 468th 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.