Tuesday, June 21, 2016

e-vo for week of June 22

Dearest e-votees,

Jesus sums up all the commandments as two: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind." and "Love your neighbor as yourself." He says that we should tend to the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with neighbor. We should live a cruciform (cross-shaped) life.

Our appointed gospel text in Luke for this week speaks to Jesus' priorities. What might they say to us who have so very many commitments and so precious-little time?



51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:51-62, NRSV

For quite a while I have been struck by the shape of Jesus' life--cruciform. In verse 51 Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. In the NIV it talks about Jesus resolutely setting out towards Jerusalem. Jesus knew what was waiting for him--the cross. Jesus knew why he had come into the world and how he would leave this world. He would not be deterred from his purpose. He was tending to his relationship with his Father in heaven. Nothing could distract him from that pinnacle moment of his ministry

That said, Jesus' ministry seems to be all about being interrupted by the needs at hand. Jesus restores a dead son to his widow mother. Jesus feeds thousands from meager resources. Jesus casts out demons. Jesus restores sight. Jesus takes moments to teach, console, cajole and confront. While never taking his resolute focus off of Jerusalem he seems completely engaged in the needs that come into his peripheral vision. He was faithfully tending to the needs of his neighbor.

This balance between the vertical calling of his life to the cross and to heaven and the horizontal calling of his life to love and serve neighbor is what the cross looks like. Our lives also have a cruciform calling. We are called to put God first and foremost. If we get distracted from putting God first we need only remember Jesus' sharp words to those who wanted to tend to their father and say farewell to friends. Some have tried to explain away Jesus' seeming callous disregard for these human needs and desires. I choose to think that Jesus knew the hearts and intentions of those to whom he was speaking. If these words catch us up short that might be more about us than what Jesus said.

But, certainly, part of taking up our cross and putting God first is caring for those created in the image of God who interrupt our plans and intentions for any given day. If Jesus can take time to wash the feet and serve communion to his disciples just hours before his grisly and painful death then we, too, should be open to the call towards inconvenient service. Some have described hospitality as making yourself uncomfortable for the sake and comfort of another. Jesus surely lived and died this path of hospitality. We, when we take up our cross and follow after Jesus, are also called to this sort of life and this sort of death.

When we try to bring about God's kingdom in our own understanding it looks like the sons of thunder wanting to rain down hellfire and brimstone on enemies who resist God's plan. Jesus rebuked them and would surely do the same to us. When we allow God to bring about God's kingdom through God's wisdom in our lives it looks much more like a basin and a towel and a cross. And while we are enduring that cross we are taught be example to pray for our enemies who don't know what they are doing. That is surely an aspect of taking up our cross for the sake of the kingdom of God.

God, bring your cruciform mold to the uncommitted flow of our lives. Draw us resolutely towards you; pour us out abundantly in service to neighbor. Amen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

e-vo for week of June 15

Dearest e-votees,

In our appointed gospel text for this Sunday Jesus wanders through all sorts of social taboos to make a connection with a troubled man. The man is restored and delivered.

The good news of the gospel is just that: Jesus enters into the world to make connection with us--a troubled humanity. He comes to restore us and to bring deliverance.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is that part we don't hear. What was it like for that man (imagined as Crazy Joe in Gordon Atkinson's "James, John and Crazy Joe" which can be found in his book RealLivePreacher.com and poetically imagined as Crazy Bill by poet Tim Melton at Sacrosanct Gospel) to be restored to his right mind and then called to stay and bear witness to his home town? How did that go? How was he received? How long did he abide with that call? We really don't know. Interesting to imagine. Peace,


26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-39, NRSV

Jesus alights on the shore where a demon-possessed man (who previously lived in the nearby cities of the Decapolis--see Mark 5:20) has no clothes--a little awkward. He lives in the tombs making him ceremonially unclean--more than a little awkward. He had been chained up but kept busting through the chains. He cries out and cuts/bruises himself with stones (see Mark 5). This is not a well man. He is dangerous and powerful and self-preserving sensible people would keep their distance. He causes people to be unclean and unable to participate in regular ritual religious life and spiritually sensible people would keep their distance. He has every appearance of being off-kilter and deranged and unable to carry on a conversation and socially sensible people would keep their distance. This man is a iridescent "DO NOT APPROACH" sign--yet Jesus approaches.

In conversing with the man he determines that there are many demons in him. So many that he goes by the name of "Legion". The demons are afraid that Jesus will return them from whence they came. After a quick negotiation Jesus lets them go into the nearby pigs (unclean animals which would also make those in their presence ceremonially unclean). The demonically-infused swine (deviled ham?!?) plunge themselves off the cliff and are drowned. The man is made well.

The swineherds go into the Decapolis and tell what has happened. The people return with them to see what has transpired. They see the man's lot in life has been reversed. He is dressed. He is outside out of the tombs. He is in his right mind. The people respond in fear. This seems to be the terrified fear not the reverential awe fear. They send Jesus away. Perhaps they are afraid of demonic reprisals. Jesus obliges them and leaves.

The man wants to go with Jesus but Jesus tells him to stay and to proclaim what God has done for him. So he went. His iridescent "DO NOT TOUCH" has become a light that he lets so shine that others might see his good works (hear his good testimony) and give glory to his Father in heaven.

What has Jesus stepped into or through to get to us? What shame and pain and despair were we dwelling in? What shame and pain and despair has Jesus taken on as his own? Jesus has made us well. We, too, get to stay here and give testimony. Who do we know who needs to hear the good news that Jesus has infused into our lives? Dare we trust God to help us tell them? It seems like such a small response to such a good thing God has done for us and for all.

God, it seems there is nowhere that you won't go to bring us back to you. Help us trust in your deliverance and invite others into this glorious healing and restoration. Amen.

Friday, June 10, 2016

e-vo for week of June 8

Dearest e-votees,

This week's appointed gospel text is the account of the sinful woman who come's into a meal at Simon the Pharisee's house. During the meal a sinful woman comes in and anoints his feet. The Pharisee sees an opportunity sees an opportunity for judgment and derision but Jesus sees and opportunity for forgiveness and teaching.

What might we see when opportunities press into our lives that seem intrusive and bold and unsettling?



36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

8 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 7:36-8:3, NRSV

This story is reminiscent of Mary anointing Jesus' feet and the dinner party where sister Martha was serving in the fresh-out-of-the-grave brother Lazarus' home(John 12:1-7). Jesus seemed to be able to evoke humble devotion from some while simultaneously drawing contempt from others. In the case of the party at Lazarus' place Mary poured herself out to Jesus while Judas sneered and wanted to capture the money for his own purposes. In this Sunday's text the sinful woman pours herself out to Jesus while the also sinful but perhaps not quite so self-aware Simon pours out judgment and disdain. Jesus sees through to the hearts and the truth of both situations.

Simon has some interest in Jesus. He wouldn't have had him over for a meal if that were not the case. Simon was favorably inclined, we can presume, towards Jesus otherwise he wouldn't have sullied his residence with a heretic. They could have met elsewhere. He was hoping for some sort of favorable exchange between himself and Jesus. He wasn't hoping that a sinner (what sort of sin is never specified) would come in and lay hands on his guest. The implication is that if Jesus were a prophet he would also know how tainted this woman is and not allow her to touch him. Simon, from his place of presumed purity, points out the dirty and the broken and the sinful.

The irony is that the only one who is pure and sinless in the room is Jesus. The only one who should be making moral pronouncements about others is Jesus. Everyone in the room knows that truly only God can forgive sins. And so here is Jesus forgiving sins. The stir around the table is rightly provoked as Jesus had made a divinity claim. Those who are estranged from God are welcomed. Those who were unclean are declared clean. And those who are enabled to receive this good news respond in love. The greater the experienced forgiveness the greater the love in response. There are two case studies here at the table.

To help Simon process what is going on Jesus teaches in a parable. There were to debtors one owed 50 denarii (a denarius was a day's wage so 50 would be a couple month's wages)--no small amount. The other owed 10 times as much--more like a year and a half's wages. Neither could pay their debts and the creditor writes off both debts. Jesus asks which of these two would love the creditor more? Simon steps into the rhetorical trap with "I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt." This is like the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). We expect those who have been forgiven much to be able to love others greatly (those who forgive them and those who they need to forgive much).

Jesus points out Simon's inactions which betray his heart. Simon had not greeted his guest, Jesus, with a kiss yet this "sinful" woman has showered Jesus with kisses. Simon had not provided Jesus with water to clean his feet (let alone clean them himself as Jesus did with the disciples on Maundy Thursday) yet this "sinful" woman had done so with tears of joy. Simon had not refreshed Jesus or blessed him with oil for his head yet this "sinful" woman had poured out ointment on his feet. Simon has not been loving in his actions. Perhaps because he did not feel forgiven. Perhaps because he thought he had no need for forgiveness. Perhaps his mind was consumed with self-righteousness and condemnation for others there wasn't a space for responding lovingly to Jesus let alone to this woman who had crashed the party.

The woman's actions betray her heart. She has been freed from her sins. In her freedom she choses to serve and bless others--Jesus in this case. This is a powerful example of Luther's "On Christian Freedom": "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all." When we are set free in Christ it allows us, invites us, compels us, draws us to be servants to one another. Jesus in his freedom entered this world, washed feet, taught and healed, suffered injustice and offered forgiveness to all who might receive. This woman set free enters into this house, washed feet, suffers injustice through the judgments of the host yet receives forgiveness from the only one who can truly offer it.

The woman leaves the party in peace and restored. We don't know about Simon. He is like the older brother in the story of the prodigal. Grace has been demonstrated in his presence. Forgiveness and reconciliation are there for him too. Will he receive them? Will we?

God, help us receive the forgiveness we so desperately need. Stir us to serve and to bless. Chase judgment out of our hearts that there might be room for grace, healing and restoration. Amen.