Friday, November 20, 2015

e-vo for week of November 25

Dearest e-votees,

Our appointed psalm for the 1st Sunday of Advent is Psalm 93.

As we gather this week for Thanksgiving with family and friends may God stir our hearts to reach out to those who are estranged from families and friends and neighbors. And may we always be mindful of how Jesus answers questions like: "And just who is my neighbor?"



1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD!
5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.

Psalm 93, NRSV

Floods are powerful and destructive. They can lift up to places we wish were sheltered. They can shatter our peaceful existence with their roaring. Our cries for help can be drowned out in the thunder of their mighty waters.

The seas and oceans are mysterious and fickle. They can provide food and sport and a means of transportation. They can serve us up as food and make sport of us and deliver us to a final and undesired destination. In ancient times the water were chaotic and powerful and to be feared (in every sense of the word "fear"). Floods and sudden squalls and major storms were hazardous and quite possibly deadly. It wasn't always clear what was lurking under the surface. People carved out an existence with the waters but it wasn't always an easy or a safe one.

Perhaps with our modern sensibilities we have come to terms with the waters. We are perhaps more aware of the expanse of the waters and the hazards. We have people who can give us advance warning and coast guards that can come pluck us from danger as needed. Perhaps we have been lulled into too easy a sense of security. Probably so.

But waters surely roar and thunder and lift us to this day. Violent crimes rise up within our borders and across the globe. Chaos and calamity, natural and human-induced, churn and foment. Our cries of fear and anger and despair can get drowned out by the events of the headlines and the arguments within our leadership and into our very homes. The sea may have shifted form but the dangers are ever present.

The appointed psalm lifts up the Lord as stronger and more steadfast than any waves that rise against us. The world has been divinely established and shall not be moved. The majesty and power of the seas are no match for the majesty and power of the Lord. God has given decrees. God seeks holiness. God's ways shall not be eroded no matter size of the storms that come. The leviathan might seek to make sport (or lunch) of us but it is God who made the leviathan for the sport of it. (Psalm 104:26) The raging seas are no match for our loving Lord.

God has given us decrees. They are summed up as "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind." and "Love your neighbor as yourself". These decrees are sure and trustworthy. Storms come into proper perspective when we build our homes on these decrees. Our neighbors are so much more than those who look, think, act, dwell and live like us. Whenever we seek to draw boundaries God says "You missed some" of the neighbors on the other side of our obstruction.

Holiness befits God's house. If we seek to be holy ("set apart" and "made righteous") then we need to allow Jesus to work on us. Holiness comes from without and comes to life as Jesus works change and renewal in our hearts and minds and actions. Holiness means bringing others into God's house that they might be made holy too. It means setting a place at the table for those we fear and those we loathe. It calls us to take up a basin and a towel and serve all including those who betray and those who deny. Holiness is best expressed in the cross with a demonstration of sacrificial love. We are called to take up our crosses and dwell in the way of sacrificial love as well.

God, be with us this Thanksgiving. May our bellies be filled, our hearts warmed, our loved ones gathered and those challenging, threatening and fear-mongering others made in your image find a place at our tables too. Help us to trust in your decrees and to be grown in holiness. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

e-vo for week of November 18

Dearest e-votees,

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year--Christ the King.

We are reminded in the conversation between Jesus and Pilate that the reign of God looks very different than the powers and power holders of this world.

With all of the news of powers and warring "kingdoms" of this world so painfully apparent in recent events perhaps we should be pleased and hopeful that Jesus comes into the world with a different looking reign--one that is cross-shaped, with a basin and a towel as its symbols and gracious prayers for one's enemies as a guiding principle.



33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

John 18:33-37, NRSV

Pilate represents the powers and the posturings of this world. Pilate has the power to set free or to condemn to death. Pilate finds himself in a position of interrogating Jesus. Just after our appointed text for this Sunday Pilate waxes philosophical about what truth might be.

We find ourselves in Pilate. We are affected by and attempt to hold sway over the powers of this world. We try and force our ways. We play into the posturings of this world. We think we hold more power than we really do as we seek to free or condemn others made in God's image. We can get lost in vain thoughts and self-absorbed philosophizing. In the height of sin we set ourselves over Jesus (which hearkens back to our ancestors in the garden).

Jesus holds to his own truth and calling. He refuses to deny himself and engage the world on its terms. He faces the cross and the powers of this world. He yields to them. But he does not acknowledge their authenticity. He knows who he is and where he is from and where he will end up. He remains true to himself and authentic. And because he does this we are saved. We are liberated through Jesus from the ways of this world. The fallacy of our power games and our posturings are revealed.

When the time runs out the folly of our ways will be fully revealed. Jesus' kingdom will be most fully revealed. Until then we wait and we trust.

God, bring the Pilates in us to a rightful demise. Bring Jesus and his ways to the fore in our lives. Use us to challenge and reject the ways of this world that deny and betray your truth and your gospel. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

e-vo for week of November 11

Dearest e-votees,

Perhaps you've seen the studies about how fewer and fewer people are going to church. That people may claim the "spiritual" tag but are averse to the "religious" one. Straying from the support, encouragement and protection of the great cloud of witnesses can severely hamper our walk of faith.

Divide and conquer is a time-tested strategy for winning a battle. The devil knows how to fight. Good thing victory is not up to us. We do well to continue to gather and encourage and wait until the battle is over once and for all.



11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

17 he also adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:11-25, NRSV

We as Christians have put our faith in the life, work, ministry, death, resurrection and faithfulness of Jesus. Because of the promises and the faithfulness of Jesus our lives, works, ministries, deaths and resurrections are made surer and deeper. Because our salvations are not ultimately dependent on us we can enter into the grace and freedom of hope without wavering. It's not about us and our good works. It is about everybody and Jesus good works. We get to live in response to the freedom granted to us in Christ. We get to be gathered into the great cloud of witnesses.

So how do we grow in faith and trust in a world that can be so fracturing and while resisting an adversary that can be so effective at picking us off the herd? We meet together. We meet with our friends and with those hypocrites we believe are lurking among us. We meet when it is easy and life-giving and when it is hard and requires determined commitment on our parts. We don't just go when we perceive something is there for us (being spiritual consumers if you will) but when our only reason for being there might be to be a blessing and a comfort and an encourager to another even the hypocrites(a religious devotee if you will). It's not about us and gratifying our spiritual fancies. It is about us being part of the family of God--warts and all--and them being there for us too.

The Day is coming. Our futures are safe and secure in the work and love of Jesus. While we wait let's allow the Holy Spirit to encourage and assure us and to send us out to bring other sheep that have wandered back into the flock. It's what Jesus would have us do.

God, thank you for making room for us in the community of faith. However we and others come--curiosity, obligation, necessity, seeking, grudgingly, desperation--let all be well received and encouraged all to the glory of God. Amen.

Friday, November 6, 2015

e-vo for week of November 4

Dearest e-votees,

I can't help but think Jesus is talking about me in the first paragraph of this Sunday's gospel reading. Perhaps it feels pointed at you as well.



38 As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

John 12:38-44, NRSV

So Jesus says beware of the scribes (as I am busy electronically scribing this devotion to you). Beware of those who like to walk around in long robes (I don't know if I always like it but I certainly don an alb and stole on a regular basis). Beware of those who like to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces (who doesn't like a kind and deferential greeting when we are out in the world?). Beware of those who like to have the best seats in the synagogues and at banquets (okay, I'd rather be on the fringes here). They say long prayers (guilty as charged) and devour the houses of widows (not intentionally but I have turned a blind eye to the plight of others who are struggling--that is most certainly true).

I find more resonances than not with the description of the one Jesus warns about. Let those, including me, who have ears hear.

I want to share with you an experience I had long ago that still propels offerings and stewardship in my life:

I was in Mexico on a mission trip. We were in a long-winded (3 hour) worship service that was all in Spanish. I had trouble following much of what was happening. At one point, however, the offering plate came around. I knew what to do here--or did I?

I had (as I opened my wallet) two bills--a $20 and a $1. This $21 was all I had for an offering and for my meal money over the next 36 hours or so as we were about to board our bus for the return trip. I briefly pondered making change but that would a. look tacky and b. leave me with a pesos which weren't so easy to spend in the U.S. I realized my choice was no offering (not an option), $1, $20 or $21.

I had a sense come over me that I should put in the $20. I impulsively did. I now had $1 to eat for the next day and a half. I spent the rest of worship doing calculations of how I could best stretch $1 over the next meals (perhaps a bag of combos at the Texas panhandle and something like Jujubes once we reached Iowa?).

Later that day someone in our group (who as far as I know had no knowledge of my offering) came up to me and said "God wants for you to have this" and gave me a $20 bill. Never before or since has this person done anything like that with me. I was floored.

What I learned is that when God prompts me to give I can give and trust that provision will come. My giving has never been the same. I don't think this was a prescriptive model of how I should always give but I was deeply impressed by God's care for me at that time and I trust and believe it will always be there for me.

Bottom line, in a very small way, I was like the widow. I put nearly all I had into the offering plate. I didn't make a big show of it. But God noticed and lifted up that meager offering and made it something much deeper and lasting. Truth is that we don't know what the widow's intentions were--sacrificial giving trusting God to provide? Maybe. Last offering before giving up all hope and the ghost? (like the widow of Zarephath making a last meal for her son and herself) Maybe. Impulsive offering with no clear plan? Quite possibly.

I share my story not to say "Look at me, look at me!" as perhaps the long-robed scribe would in the marketplace. I share my story to say "Look at God, look at God!" God did a profound and miraculous thing some 28 years ago and it is still bearing fruit. In the risk and the daring of an impulsive gift to God I received it all back and so much more. Perhaps as you consider your giving and stewardship you might like the Holy Spirit blow you to an impulsive and blessed place.

God, help us grow in trusting you. Stir us to be bold and trusting in our benevolence. Help us beware of those Jesus describes and help us to distance our own behaviors from them. Amen.