Friday, May 22, 2020

e-vo for May 22

Dearest e-votees,

May 21 (Thursday of this week) is Ascension Day.  It is forty days after Easter (counting the day of Easter just as Friday to Sunday is "on the third day" in how that part of the world counts).

The assigned texts for this day include Acts 1:1-11 where Jesus shows convincing proofs of his resurrection for 40 days and then ascends into heaven promising that they will be receive power when the Holy Spirit comes (unbeknownst to the apostles very quickly, in 10 days on Pentecost).



The Bible has a rather scant accounting of what took place during the 40 days between Easter and Ascension.  I would love to know what sorts of proofs Jesus shared.  I would love to be a fly on the wall and listen to the conversations and the teachings.  It would be good to watch the apostles come to a stronger faith, conviction and resolve during this time.  All of us could use some bolstering of our faith, our convictions and our resolve, right?  It seems that the writer to Theophilus (author of Luke and Acts) could have done a little more documentation here.  That would be my feedback were I give the first draft of Acts.

What we are given, however, is that the followers of Jesus while having faith and deep connections with Jesus were in need of an ongoing presence in their lives of the Holy Spirit.  That there was important work to be done.  That work could only best be done with the equipping of the Holy Spirit.  Luther talks about the work of the Holy Spirit this way in the explanation of the 3rd article of the Apostles Creed: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."

The Holy Spirit is a gift for the apostles, to be sure, but for all of us believers as well.  We are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified.  May we rest and work, speak and listen and tend to our vocations and avocations in the sure and certain presence of the Holy Spirit.

God, help us find peace with the parts of the story that we don't have or can't understand.  Stir us with your Holy Spirit to a fuller more robust faith.  Stoke our faith, our convictions and our resolve--all to Your glory.  Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2020

e-vo for May 15

Dearest e-votees,

As a former science teacher, as a parent of 3 (including a currently 5 year old) and as a theologian I have found myself much more engaged by the questions rather than the answers.

Good teaching is more about asking than answering.  So is good parenting.  So is good preaching.



I have always been fond of Paul's message in Acts 17 to the Athenians at the Areopagus.  Paul is looking to find a way to preach Christ.  He looks around the city and finds an altar to an "UNKNOWN GOD" and begins to preach from there.

Essentially Paul finds a commemoration to the question "Have we missed any gods?" or "What other gods might there be?"  There are a lot of religions and religious expressions in this world.  Some folks take what they like from this place and from that place--kind of a spiritual buffet.  And some are at the buffet with their plate saying "I have a little more room on my plate I wonder if I missed anything."  Paul would say "Yes, you have got to try the Christianity.  It's to die for."  (okay, Paul probably wouldn't phrase it that way but would certainly share the sentiment)

The world and we are seeking.  What we have found on our own may not be sufficient.  But none of us (particularly our old Adams and old Eves) like hearing "You got it wrong--I'll tell you what you missed."  Even if the one sharing their wisdom is spot-on we resist the correction and despise the presumption.  What can be engaging is one who enters into the question with us.  That is what good teachers and parents and preachers do.

Some people see questions in themselves or others and see it as weakness or lack of faith or doubt.  This helps drive self-righteous, judgmental and hypocritical religious sorts.  This is what allows people to disparagingly tag Thomas as "Doubting Thomas".  But questions evidence engagement.  Questions evidence one being on the journey.  Questions evidence life.

Paul did well to suss out the questioning posture of the altar and to speak to it.  I wish Paul had lingered more in the question rather than jumped right to the answers in the back of the textbook but perhaps that is just a homiletical difference between Paul and me.

What questions are keeping your grey matter whirring?  What questions drive you to prayer?  What questions keep you engaged in your community of faith?  What questions keep you at an arm's length from some aspects of faith?

I would invite you to let Jesus engage you in those questions.  Jesus loves you.  Jesus loves you so much he might say "You see that one over there, made in God's image?  (S)he's to die for."  That is the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  And we are invited to follow after that Jesus.  Jesus says come and follow me, take up your cross.  In other words, this work that I am about needs you.  It is important work.  It's to die for.  Won't you come?

Dear God of questions and doubt and faith, engage us and help us to engage you.  Reveal yourself to us.  Stir us to put aside all other gods that we may know that we might be captivated by you--our UNKOWN GOD (or at least not fully known yet).  Amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

e-vo for May 12

Dearest e-votees,

This Sunday one of our appointed lessons is 1 Peter 3:13-22.  It speaks of suffering.  It speaks of those who survived the flood in Genesis 6-9.  It makes a connection between the truths conveyed in the story of Noah and the flood and the truths and promises conveyed in baptism.  What might it say to us?



Many baptismal fonts are octagonal (8-sided). There are several explanations of this shape and its connection to baptism.  I will sketch out the first two briefly and look at the third in a little more depth:

Explanation 1:  
In the prologue of Genesis God creates the world in six days and then takes a day of rest--the Sabbath.  These seven days brought shape to the 7-day week and marked time from then on.  When Jesus came into the world he came to his death in one last Holy Week.  On Easter morning he came back to life in a way and a day unlike any that had preceded.  It was like an 8th day of the week (cue up the Beatles).  The 8-sided font represents our resurrection hope as an Easter people.

Explanation 2:  
In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus sends the disciples into all the nations baptizing and teaching them.  Some see in this a compass rose.  The 8 points of the compass (N, E, S, W, NE, SE, SW, NW) represent going out into all the world with good news of the gospel.  The is part of the work into which we are baptized.  The 8-sided font represents the good news that is for all and we are charged to convey.

Explanation 3: 

In the flood account in Genesis (and referenced in 1 Peter) there are 8 who survived the flood.  The 8 were Noah (and his wife), Ham (and his wife), Shem (and his wife) and Japheth (and his wife).  The flood came as a result of widespread sin in the world.  The waters of the flood came as a judgment and a means of deliverance from the sin and its grip on the world.  1 Peter connects these 8 people who were saved in the flood with baptism.

In baptism there is a reckoning with our sinful nature.  We are all at our core sinful beings.  We don't always do what is right.  Even when we do what is right we don't always do it with the right motivations.  We push away from God's best intentions for us and for all of creation.  We grieve God and we grieve ourselves and we grieve others by what we do and what we left undone.  God has determined that there needs to be a reckoning with our old (unredeemed) Adam and our old (unredeemed) Eve.  There is a death and a drowning that needs to occur.  Baptism is a ritual drowning.

But God doesn't abandon us.  God does not leave the dead in the grave (that is our Easter hope).  God raises up our new (redeeemed, reborn, restored) Eve and our new (redeemed, reborn, restored) Adam.  There is new life and new hope and resurrection at work.  There is a saving work in the waters of baptism.

The 8-sided font represents the drowning and raising of our selves in the water of baptism.  We are a resurrection people.  We are alive and have begun eternal life.  Even though our bodies will die there is the sure and certain promise that God will not abandon us to the depths of drowning nor the painful and stifling isolation of our sin nor the darkness of the grave.  

Christ's work on the cross was done once and for all on the cross.  As 1 Peter 3:18 says:  "For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,"  Rest is the good news and saving work accomplished in the cross and applied to you in your baptism.

Dear Jesus, bring your 8-sided promises conveyed in baptism to bear on us this day and forever.  Amen.

Friday, May 8, 2020

e-vo for May 7th(ish)

Dearest e-votees,

So for Sunday we have the account of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.  He was stoned to death by an angry crowd.  The coatrack, Saul, will eventually have a powerful conversion experience and become the apostle Paul.

One of the most powerful parts of the story is Stephen praying for those who are inflicting mortal harm.  I wonder where he learned such crazy behavior.



Jesus prays for his persecutors and murderers:  "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing."  (Luke 23:34).  He is enduring what he must for the sake of humanity and to bring glory to God.  In the midst of his suffering his mind and heart are directed towards those who are unjustly taking his life.

Stephen seems to have a strong resonance in Jesus in this regard.  While being killed for merely sharing what was revealed to him about God he pauses and asks God not to hold this sin against them.

There are those who, intentionally or inadvertently, bring death upon us.  They can kill our spirits or kill our bodies.  They may be malevolent actors wishing harm to come our way.  They may be oblivious to how they are exposing us to harm.  We can easily get righteously indignant and call down judgment and pile abuse on those to work us harm.  Perhaps there is need for accountability to be coerced and justice to be served.  We can also pray for those who harm us.

The truth is prayers for enemies, extending forgiveness and seeking reconciliation are as much for us as those who may have been wronged as it is for those for whom we pray, seek to forgive and try to make right.

Jesus is about the business of bringing forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration WRIT LARGE.  We are called to forgive, to seek reconciliation and to participate in restoration.  But this is only possible to do in earnest because of what Jesus did in his life, ministry, death and resurrection.  Jesus shows us how we might engage the work of forgiveness and community building.

Stephen shows us that people can rise to the high standard Jesus showed us on the high standard of the cross.  We can take up our crosses and follow after Jesus.  Stephen did it (as have many, many martyrs throughout the years) including Dietrich Bonhoeffer as shown in his writings and in his death at the hands to the death camp guards.

Things will happen to us--just and unjust.  Something will end our mortal existence--perhaps hastened by sin (our own and that of others).  We may have a chance to respond to what has happened and how our death has come to be.  May Jesus and Stephen shape our responses, our prayer lives and our witnesses to others who may be with us during our trials and tribulations and passings.

Dear Jesus, shape our hearts and minds and prayer lives through your witness and testimony on the cross in words and sufferings.  Help us bring glory to God and hope to all no matter what comes our way.  Amen.

Monday, May 4, 2020

e-vo for "May the Fourth"

Dearest e-votees,

So today, May the 4th, is designated as Star Wars Day (get it?  "May the Fourth" sounds an awful lot like "May the Force".

So the joke goes Q:  "How do you know Lutherans are in the audience at a Star Wars screening?"   A: "They all respond back to 'May the force be with you.' with 'And also with you."  (variation:  swap out Catholics for Lutherans and change the response to "And with thy spirit.").  Or still another variation  Q:  "How can you sort out Lutherans and Catholics at a Starbucks?"   A:  "Tell the barista your name is 'The Lord be with you.' and pay attention to responses when your drink order is up."

Humor and embracing some of the memes of our culture is winsome and can go a long way to welcoming people into the faith.  Don't you think?



There are different ways to be a person of faith in this world.  Surely we are called to be "in the world" but not "of it".  But what does that look like when the rubber hits the road?

One approach is that of John the Baptist.  Dress differently, talk differently, live differently, call out sin and demand repentance.  It worked for him.  It also got him killed.  He reminds me of some of the folks I have seen in my days on this earth who lug around crosses and deal out condemnation.  It seems to work for some people but hasn't really helped me get closer to God.  How about you?

Another approach is that of John's cousin Jesus.  Immerse yourself in the world.  Dine with all sorts of people (including the wrong sorts).  Engage those on the fringes.  Bring a word of healing and hope.  Challenge the religious leaders who have missed the mark.  It worked for him.  It also got him killed.

John and Jesus weren't in opposition.  They made connections while they were in utero and both faithfully went about their callings for all of their unnaturally short lifespans.  Both of them pushed against people who were too much "of the world".  There passion and their tenacity caused lethal blowback.

I am not thinking that most of us will yield our physical lives in service of callings that God has put on our lives (although I hope and pray that should that come to pass I would bring glory to God and help bring others to the saving graces found in Jesus).  But we do have callings on our lives (we Lutherans speak of vocations) and in that we are called to yield our lives, our control, our power, our reputation in service of something higher.  That is not how the world works.  Doing that alone faithfully makes us "not of this world".

That said, we can engage the world and its memes.  Karl Barth said that we should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  That means that we should have some connections to the world--its stories, its heartbreak, its culture, its humor, etc., etc.  Those things help us engage people "of this world".  But we should also keep our hearts and minds for the Lord.  We should be "in the world" but not consumed by it (or "assimilated" to bring in another sci-fi meme).

May you find humor and joy this day.  May you be playful and whimsical yet focussed and faithful.  Something is going to get us one of these days:  COVID-19, an accident, genetics, a hostile world who doesn't like the way we live our our vocations, old age, cancer, etc., etc.  But we have good news that death won't be the end of us.  So, as Andrew Greeley says:  "Jesus and his troublemaking go merrily on".  (for those who are curious you can see that my faith is at least skin deep (and truly much deeper) by pointing your browser here.)

Jesus, help us engage the world in winsome and faithful ways.  Be with us every day of our lives and every day thereafter.  Amen.