Wednesday, December 30, 2015

e-vo for week of December 30

Dearest e-votees,

On this cusp of this New Year (calendar, liturgical began in early December) may you and yours have a blessed and joyous 2016.



21 Then [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Luke 4:21-30, NRSV

Jesus has just astounded the home town crowd by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and telling them that he is the fulfillment of those deep and salvific promises. The crowd goes from amazed to questioning to rage within the space of 7 verses. Those joining in a house of worship end up taking Jesus to the cusp of the hill, where their town was located, threatening to throw him off.

Jesus wasn't thrown off but the people were. Why do you suppose that someone they knew and cared for drove them to such fury? Were they put off by the sheer arrogance of claiming that a scripture, a potent one at that, spoke directly of him? Were they put off by him claiming to be a prophet? Were they put off by Jesus saying God often seems to forgo the obvious and worthy recipients of blessing and grace and rather bestow honor and healing on those on the fringes?

What about us? Are there people we know who seem to think they are to us a gift from God? Do they, or others, attribute statements and accolades to them that just make our blood boil? Do people seem to neglect our needs and concerns in order to care for others much more likely to be found on the fringes? Were Jesus to come into our midst would we be likely to want to throw him off a cliff? Or discount and deride him? Or nail him to the cross?

The truth is the truth confronts us. It cuts us to the core. Look at the prophets and how they were treated. Consider John the Baptist and what became of him and his truth telling. Consider Jesus and what was done in order to attempt to suppress his truth telling. But the truth persists. And when the mainstream rejects the truth it goes to the edges. The truth slips right through the midst of our injurious hands and goes to one from Zarephath or a Syrian or a Samaritan woman at the well or shepherds tending their flocks by night or to ... If we want to know the truth, which will set us free, we need to let the truth speak to us--no matter how unlikely the speaker seems to be to us. If we want to find the truth we should consider stepping away from the center to seek Jesus on the fringes in the "least of these". When we speak truth, as God directs us, we may find ourselves being manhandled by an unruly mob--we're in good company.

God, bring your truth to bear to and through our lives. Help us seek after your will and, as John the Baptist said, decrease in order that you might increase. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

e-vo for Christmas week

Dearest e-votees,

Merry Christmas.



2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among
those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:1-20, NRSV

If you ask people their favorite Bible verse so very often people will respond with John 3:16. For God so loved the world that Jesus was sent. Christmas is the realization of that verse.

Think of all the preparations when a great dignitary arrives--the president or the pope or some other powerful or influential celebrity. Streets and hotel floors are cordoned off. The finest musicians and caterers are summoned. The unsightly and troublesome are disappeared. All is made neat and clean and tidy and presentable. We know how people of merit deserve to be treated. After they leave we mark where they stayed or sat or ate. We make shrines of a sort. We photo-document the day so we might never forget when power and influence came near.

In Jesus' case, the inns were cordoned off to keep the holy family out not to ensure room and safety for them. They were regarded as more akin to the unsightly and troublesome than the bearers of God's promise of salvation to the world. There was nowhere neat and tidy and presentable for these peasant citizens looking to participate in the census and God's plan for salvation so they were stalled with the animals. The only thing close to a caterer's serving dish was the manger that served as a makeshift bassinet.

There were no pictures to capture the birth or the visit. Any depictions that have been created after the fact are woefully "photoshopped" with halos and babies that don't cry and luminescent holy family members. All is made sanitary and acceptable in post-production.

This birth of the Christ child was certainly no modern-day dignitary visit. And as if to desecrate the moment even further, the shepherds, absolutely card-carrying members of the "unsightly and troublesome" enter into the story. They would never be granted access to a modern-day dignitary. It seems as though God doesn't understand how things ought to be done as we do.

But that is exactly the point. We would create a king's entrance and birth event that separates. It would hold the baby beyond arm's length of those who need to draw near. "God with us", Emmanuel, would be something more akin to "God is as close as you'll ever get, now please stay behind the line and don't cause any trouble". We would put too much emphasis on what we can do or can't do and not nearly enough on who has come to do what we could never do. Throughout Jesus' life and ministry all sorts of people of the wrong cut were granted way too much access. Jesus responded when they came and sometimes hunted them out when they didn't. He didn't worry about his food nor accommodations but made sure those who were hungry were fed (literally and metaphorically) and came to make room for all at the table here and at the banquet in heaven. I heard a sermon where the wedding guest who was given the bum's rush out of the wedding reception (Matthew 22:1-14) was Jesus who had given his appropriate clothes to the likes of us. Jesus puts aside all care, consideration, honor and the like for himself in order that we might receive those things. How blessed are we?!?

So when we go to church tonight, or whenever, or when we go out into the world and bump into "unsightly and troublesome" folks can we treat them as Jesus treated us? Can we put aside our own issues and bigotries and judgments and reach out to them with love and honor? Jesus was pretty clear how we ought to treat the "least of these" in Matthew 25. May peace be among those whom he favors (which includes you and everyone you might deem "unsightly and troublesome").

Blessed Christmas to you and to all you encounter.

God, help us, like Mary, ponder this Christmas miracle in our hearts. Help us, like the shepherds, respond to the birth and bear this good news to others. Help us, like the angel, proclaim God's glory and speak "Fear not!" to a fear-steeped world. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

e-vo for week of December 9

Dearest e-votees,

This coming Sunday our assigned lectionary text captures John the Baptist's intriguing proclamation out in the wilderness.



7 John [the Baptist] said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Luke 3:7-18, NRSV

I can just see the plans for the mission start church now: Working Title = "Brood of Vipers Lutheran Church"

Who starts a message by calling those in earshot a "brood of vipers"?!? John the Baptist. He continues his message with warning the hearers that their spiritual lineage won't save them. Claiming this or that allegiance or connection isn't sufficient to spare one from the consuming fire. Mincing words isn't one of John's gifts.

This sharp-toothed opening gets the attention of those in the audience. The crowds begin to ask in turn "What should we do?" John responds that they should treat those around them with gracious charity and justice. For those those with excess they should share with the ones in need. For those with opportunities to deal with others in an oppressive or predatory manner they should resist and treat others as they would want to be treated. In other words they should love their neighbor as they themselves would want to be loved.

Hearing this the crowds wonder if this one in their presence just might be the Messiah. Perhaps they were getting ready to love John with all their hearts, souls, minds and strengths. John quickly and completely ducks from their adoring gaze. He points away toward Jesus (a move he demonstrates throughout classical artistic depictions of him). John does what he does boldly and with great faith and zeal. He knows who he has been called to be and he is certain who he is not. Would that we also lived with such a balance of earnest humility and grounded reality.

God, thank you for the ministry and testimony of John the Baptist. The words that cut to the hearts of those in the wilderness cut us to the quick as well. Shape us into ones ready to receive Jesus more fully. Amen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

e-vo for week of December 2

Dearest e-votees,

Our appointed gospel text locates itself firmly in history and then proclaims the history-changing message of God's salvation that has broken through time and brings hope and light to all who would hear.



1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled,and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight,and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke 3:1-6, NRSV

Meticulous Luke makes sure to carefully locate the story he tells in time and place. He names names and gives titles. He lists places. He speaks of Roman structures and of Jewish structures. He makes connections to powers, principalities, religious leaders and political ones. For those who want facts and dates, times and places, Ts crossed (taus for Luke) and Is dotted (iotas for Luke) he is your man. This is a historical occurrence presented thoroughly and concisely.

Into this historical setting comes John the baptizer. He is connected with the prophecies of Isaiah. Luke tells us he is the one crying out in the wilderness (cue up Handel's Messiah or the Godspell soundtrack). He tells of John's work to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Terrains shall be transformed. Contours and pathways shall be realigned. Hearts will be brought to repentance and salvation will be made evident. The gospel in Luke bursts into history and recharts her waters. Through the baptismal ministry of John people are prepared for the Lord to come.

As with many texts of scripture there is a now and a not yet part. Jesus has come. John has prepared the way. Salvation has been revealed. This is in the now of the text. But we wait for Jesus to come again and to come in his fullness. We wait for our own hearts and lives to be prepared for Jesus to enter in more fully as Emmanuel ("God with us"). We wait for salvation to come fully to bear into our lives and our world. We know Jesus has come but we want and need him to come again and completely. This is what we wait for and what we pray for in Advent.

God, come into our historical realities. Enter into the realms of the here and now. Bring your salvation and your light in us and through us. Help us wait well and welcome all who would hear. Amen.