Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Galatians 5:1, 13-25

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Galatians 5:13-14 (NRSV)

What is the purpose of freedom?  Is it so we can indulge our every whim?  If everyone acted that way, would we really be free?  Or would we begin to worship our individual rights, defending them at all costs, even to the point of defending our right to behavior that harms those around us?  How could we live freely, if we lived in fear of others exercising their freedom at our expense?

God’s vision for the world is one of freedom.  He envisions a world in which we are free from fear, free from worry, free from scarcity and exploitation.  Such a world can only exist when we can trust our fellow human beings to be just as concerned about our wellbeing as they are about their own, and vice versa.

That’s not the world we live in now.  However it is a vision of what the world could be, and those of us who have been freed from sin by the grace of God are called to help make that vision a reality.  Those of us who are living under grace are called to use our freedom to help one another.  Christian living all boils down to loving others as you love yourself, prioritizing their needs as equal to your own.  Not higher, not lower.  Equal.

God doesn’t want you to live enslaved to the whims of others; God wants you to live in freedom and love.  Consider carefully how you choose to exercise your rights.  Do they help ensure the freedom and wellbeing of others?  Or do they force others to live in fear of you?

Let us pray.  Gracious God, you have given us the tremendous responsibility of freedom.  Help us to exercise it wisely, that all may know the glory of living freely under your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 6, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 9:21-27

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”  Luke 9:24-25 (NRSV)

What is your goal in life?  What is your highest priority or deepest ambition?  How do you order your life, and what do you hope to accomplish by it?

Many of us will say we just want to be happy, or content, or secure.  We each have our own ideas about what elements would contribute to our ideal environments, and we work towards making those environments our reality.  Our objectives are tangible, measurable, and achievable.

But what if they’re wrong?  What if what we’re working towards isn’t actually what we need?

Worldly success is a harsh taskmaster.  It is based on a perspective of scarcity, and it inspires fear.  When happiness or security is judged by the world’s standards, we will never achieve enough.  We will never rest, no matter how much we’ve accomplished, because others who are working harder can take what we have away from us.  We can achieve the whole world, yet never accomplish our goal, and lose the core of our very being.

God is also working towards our contentment and security, only God knows better than we do what will accomplish it.  And by shifting our focus to him, we can be assured that we won’t miss the mark.  For there is no scarcity of God’s grace.  There is no scarcity of God’s love.  God has an abundance of compassion.  God has an abundance of mercy.  And God values the core of your being, and will save it.

Turn to God.  Live for him, and trust that he lives for you.

Let us pray.  God of abundance, you seek to achieve our wellbeing.  Help us to entrust ourselves to your care, that both our lives and our souls may be saved and cherished.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 6, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Galatians 4:8-20

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods.  Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?  How can you want to be enslaved to them again?”  Galatians 4:8-9 (NRSV)

None of us lives in a vacuum.  We all let something or someone influence our priorities and our actions.  And we often do it without realizing exactly what we are giving away.

Each and every one of us has power over ourselves.  And when we choose who or what will influence us, we are giving away some of that power.  We are choosing who or what will compel our actions and reorder our priorities.  It is important to choose wisely.

Out of ignorance or inertia, many of us give our power to the prevailing trends in our culture.  We care about monetary wealth and social status, so we allow those concerns to shape our lives and even characters.  We become what our culture tells us to become, blind to the fact that our culture really doesn’t care about us or our wellbeing; it only cares about perpetuating itself.

Yet when we encounter God in Christ, we encounter One who cares not only about our personal wellbeing, but who also wants us to live in a culture that cares.  And when we choose God to be our influence, we are joining our power with his much greater power, which is capable of changing the world in amazing and positive ways.

But change, even positive change, can be frightening, and it is tempting to turn back to what we know.  Consider carefully what you’re giving away when you choose your influence.  Do you want to give your power to something that doesn’t care about you and can never give you fulfillment, or would you rather give your power to the God who loved you so much that he gave his only Son to die for you?

Let us pray.  Almighty God, you invite us to participate with you in your plan of salvation.  Strengthen us against the false promises of the world, that we may faithfully follow you.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 6, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 13:5-10

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!”  2 Corinthians 13:5 (NRSV)

Why do so many Christians act contrary to the mission of Christ?  Why do so many ignore the needs of the poor, the suffering, and the outsider?  Worse yet, why do so many contribute to the troubles of the poor, the suffering, and the outsider?

Some Christians were born into the faith, raised in the church, and feel utterly confident in their own salvation.  Others came into the faith as adults, joyful for the freedom from their past sins as they accepted God’s forgiveness in Christ.

But being in the faith is not enough.  Living in the faith is what God requires of us.

How does this work?

When we are members of the body of Christ, we are in solidarity with all other Christians, regardless of culture or social or economic status.  We are Christ’s body in the world, and Christ himself is in us, showing us his ways so that we will act with the love and compassion he demonstrated when he himself walked the earth in his own body.  When we call ourselves Christians and accept membership in the body of Christ, we are called to treat the low and despised with dignity and grace, just as Jesus did.

Doing this does not come automatically, especially when we’re immersed in a culture that demeans the unfortunate and ridicules generosity.  We have to listen to the guidance of Christ in our hearts and be accountable to each other as we strive to do Christ’s work in the world.

As you go about your business, at work, at home, as you run errands and take your leisure, ask yourself if what you’re doing is consistent with what Jesus did.  Ask yourself if you’re building up the body of Christ, or tearing it down.  And if it is the latter, consider what you can do to change things, so that your actions will demonstrate your living faith.

Let us pray.  Lord of compassion, your Holy Spirit prompts us in the way we should go.  Help us to be open to your guidance, that we may truly live according to the faith you have given us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 9:37-43a

“On the next day, when [Jesus, Peter, John, and James] had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.  Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.”  Luke 9:37-38 (NRSV)

Jesus and three of his disciples had just been up on the mountain praying, and had experienced a miracle.  Jesus had been transfigured, the glory of God literally blazing throughout his entire body.  A voice from heaven announced, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Filled with wonder and amazement, the disciples were convinced that Jesus was no mere teacher.

Yet immediately upon descending from the mountain, still affected by what they’d experienced, the mundane intruded.  A crowd was waiting for them, all wanting something from Jesus.  One man, probably culturally insignificant, called Jesus ‘Teacher’ and asked that he look at his sick son.  This Jesus they had just witnessed speaking to Moses and Elijah, God’s own Son and Chosen One, is being asked to look at a sick peasant boy.  Why should such an extraordinary being be bothered by such a low concern?

It was exactly for such ‘low concerns’ that Jesus came into the world.  If God had wanted to be set apart in his glory, he would have stayed in heaven.  Instead he was born into a culturally insignificant family, citizens of a conquered nation, and set about bringing hope and healing to the lowest of the low.  He treated prostitutes and tax collectors with dignity, and valued the life of a poor man’s only child.  He took a few moments here and there to pray, but mostly he willingly surrounded himself with ‘low concerns,’ listened to them, and addressed their needs.

This is what God does: he comes to us for no reason other than he chooses to.  He meets us where we are when we need something from him desperately and have nothing to offer in return.  He makes our concerns his concerns, and he reveals his greatness in the mundane.

Let us pray.  God of majesty, you put aside your glory to take on human flesh.  Help us to see your grace in your encounters with us, that we may be as uplifted by your glory as if we’d witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration for ourselves.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 64

“Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers…They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see us?  Who can search out our crimes?  We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.’  For the human heart and mind are deep.”  Psalm 64:2, 5-6 (NRSV)

There is evil in this world, and no amount of prayer or faithfulness can spare us from experiencing the effects of other people’s sin.

So what good is prayer and faithfulness if it doesn’t protect us from the evils of the world?  What good is God if he can’t stop such evil from existing?

God laid the foundations of the world.  He lovingly created each and every living thing that has ever been born upon it.  And human beings, all of whom were created in his image, have been given the choice to accept his love and grace, and live according to his vision for us.  Some of us have chosen to follow the way of the Lord, and strive to achieve his vision.

But others have rejected his way, and some have actively worked against it.  Many do not believe that God exists, or that he is constantly working in everyone’s life to bring them into his fold.  They believe instead that living according to their own desires is the best way to achieve fulfillment.  And because God wants those who choose him to do so freely, that means he also allows those who do not choose him to do so freely.

But that does not mean God doesn’t see them, doesn’t know the thoughts of their hearts, their unwavering commitment to their traps, plots, and crimes.  That doesn’t mean God abandons us to their scheming.

God’s justice transcends the world that we know, as does his comfort.  When we are impacted by someone else’s evil, God is there with us, helping us to withstand, bringing us his comfort, showing his love to us and through us.

And as deep as the human heart and mind are, God’s heart and mind are deeper, and the evil will be called to account for their actions.  Justice will prevail.

Let us pray.  God of mercy and justice, you desire all who were created in your image to live in peace.  Grant us the perseverance to withstand the evils of this world, that your good purpose might shine through us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Monday, Year C

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NRSV)

In the world today, intelligence, power, and status are the best predictors of worldly success.  Those who have the status to receive opportunities, the intelligence to recognize the best prospects, and the power to influence events in their favor are the ones who will prosper.  Every one else must make do with what they have, and simply hope for the best.

But God isn’t interested in worldly success.  And he certainly doesn’t need it for building his kingdom.  The majority of people in the world do not possess extraordinary intelligence, great power, or status.  Yet these are who God calls to follow him, to receive his blessings, and to build his kingdom.  And the faithfulness and the work of the foolish, the weak, and the insignificant continue to thrive in this hostile world.

God’s mercy is available to the wise and the foolish, the powerful and the weak, the elite and the proletariat.  God can use the gifts and resources of all, but it is God’s call that accomplishes his will, not what we have to offer.  In his eyes we are all equally valuable, equally worthy of his love, and equally needful of his grace.

Let us pray.  Lord of all, you value us according to your own standards.  Free us from the lures of worldly success, that we may be more open to the blessings of your call.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Luke 8:26-39

“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘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 8:38-39 (NRSV)

Jesus Christ was a great teacher; he taught us about the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus Christ was a great healer; he cured many of our diseases and afflictions.  Jesus Christ was a great example; he demonstrated with his own life—and death—how to live generously, faithfully, and selflessly.

But none of those reasons is why we worship him and call ourselves Christians.

Jesus Christ is God incarnate, God made flesh.  Jesus Christ is what happened when God embraced humanity enough to become human himself, forever bridging the gap between his holiness and our sinfulness.  Jesus Christ is God our Lord.

The man from whom the demons had gone understood this.  After he was freed from his terrible ordeal, he wanted to stay with Jesus, take strength and encouragement from his continued presence, and follow him wherever he went.  But Jesus had other plans for him; Jesus wanted him to go home to where he and his ordeal were known and tell everyone what God had done for him.  The man did this, and told everyone what Jesus had done for him.  Jesus had healed him.  God had healed him.  Jesus was God, walking the earth as a man and confronting our afflictions directly with his compassion and power.

Jesus Christ is no mere historical figure we admire and then disregard; Jesus Christ is God breaking into human history and forever changing it, forever changing us, forever bridging the gap between his holiness and our sinfulness.  That is why we worship him and call ourselves Christians.

Let us pray.  God incarnate, you came to us and became one of us.  Enable us to put our faith in you, that we may experience your compassion and power.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 22:19-28

“For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard me when I cried to him.”  Psalm 22:24 (NRSV)

What is the one aspect of your life that causes you the most grief?  What causes you to suffer?  Is it a dysfunctional relationship?  An addiction?  A compulsion of some sort?  What is your shameful secret that causes you misery, and that you try to hide from everyone?

Whatever it is, God knows about it.  God knows about you.  God knows who you are and what you’ve done.  And he loves you completely.  When you suffer, he suffers along with you, even if you’re suffering from something that others might consider self-inflicted or avoidable.  It doesn’t matter to God.

There is nothing about you that causes God to turn away from you.  There is nothing you can do to make him hate you.  God is not shocked by your failings or weaknesses; he does not reject a part of you and embrace the rest.  God asks you to show him your woundedness, and like the great physician he his, he will not be repulsed by it, but will examine it, treat it tenderly, and help you to heal.

Let us pray.  Great Physician, you see us in our wounded state, and accept us as we are.  Grant us the courage to cry out to you in our vulnerability, that we may begin to be healed by your tender mercy.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Isaiah 57:1-13

“When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!  The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away.  But whoever takes refuge in me shall possess the land and inherit my holy mountain.”  Isaiah 57:13 (NRSV)

We put our faith in many things: money, power, status, even other people.  Yet none of these can bring salvation.  Money can run out; power can be lost.  Status is fleeting, and other people can disappoint.  In times of our greatest need, none of these things can help us.

But the Lord God can bring salvation, and the Lord God can help us.  And we need not wait until we’re in our moment of greatest need to realize this; while some do cry out to God as a last resort, he is there and available as our first and only defense.  Waiting until the end means we miss out on a lifetime of blessings we could have recognized and enjoyed, but were too blinded by our idols to see.  God is here now, present in our sufferings, present in our joys, present in the mundane moments in between.

God can help us see our idols in a different light: as tools to be used or blessings to be enjoyed, but not as objects of our worship or facets of our identity.  God alone is worthy of our worship, and the fact that he loves us enough to send his only Son to die for us gives us the core of our identity, the element which shapes and informs everything else about us.

Recognize your money, power, status, and relationships as blessings, and use them to proclaim God’s love to the world.  But put your faith in God, for God alone can save us.

Let us pray.  God our refuge and our strength, you can deliver your people from destruction.  Enable us to turn from our idols, that our faith in you will comfort us in our trials and demonstrate your grace to the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.