Pentecost 10, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV)

It is logical to be kind to those who are kind to you, and to wish ill on those who wish ill on you.  But such logic is contrary to the will of God.

For all that we want God to punish those who work against us, the truth is that he continues to grace them with his blessings.  They have just as much access to the abundant resources of his good creation as we do, and sometimes it seems as though their evil deeds are rewarded at our expense.  Feelings of resentment on our part are understandable, for what is the point of following God if those who don’t bother with him get the same benefits as we do?

The point is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  God met our rejection with acceptance, our hate with love, our sinfulness with forgiveness, and our apathy with care.  It was this refusal to recognize us as the enemy we had declared ourselves that allowed us to become his beloved children.  Had he recognized us as his enemy, then we would have remained his enemy forever, and been doomed.

Everyone we see as an enemy is a potential brother or sister.  If you treat them as an enemy then they will likely remain so, and you will both suffer from your adversarial relationship.  But if you treat them as a neighbor, showing them the love that God has shown you, then perhaps they may begin to recognize his grace and turn from enemy to neighbor.

Let us pray.  Lord of all, your abundant grace covers the world.  Enable us to see your hope in others, that we may treat all your people with grace and kindness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Penteocst 10, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 55:16-23

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”  Psalm 55:22 (NRSV)

Following the Lord is no guarantee of an easy, blessed life.  In fact, putting your mind on the things of the Lord instead of valuing the things of the world ensures that you will struggle and endure hardships, for the world does not like to have its priorities questioned or challenged.

But whatever hardships we may suffer, we are not alone in our struggles.  The Lord our God is with us always, providing us his strength, comfort, and wisdom, walking with us in our journeys, carrying us when we stumble, and watching over us when we rest.

When the Son of God accepted the cross for our sins, he was not spared all the agony that went with that form of torturous death.  Nor was he spared death itself.  But he endured, and he conquered death for our sake.  He rose again to new life, and he is the one who invites us to cast our burdens on him.  There is nothing we can do or experience that will ever drive him away from us; he is our rock and our shield, and has already given himself for us.

Trust in the Lord.  Lean on him.  Open yourself to his love and grace, and the world will not defeat you.

Let us pray.  Tenacious Lord, you stand strong in the face of all who oppose you.  Make us aware of your presence with us, that we may be comforted by you in our own trials.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 10, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Colossians 2:16-3:1

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as though you still belonged to the world?  Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’?  All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.”  Colossians 2:20-23 (NRSV)

An alternate, more helpful translation of the final words of the final verse goes, “But they are of no value, serving only to indulge the flesh.”  This translation helps to drive home the fact that those very things that appear to demonstrate self-discipline are actually themselves forms of self-indulgence.  How can that be?

The world honors the successful, and rewards those who engage in activities that ensure that success.  When that mentality is turned towards Christianity, then we look for outward signs of ‘successful’ faith.  We ‘prove’ ourselves with displays of piety, humility, or severe self-discipline, but our reward is the recognition of others.  It is a worldly reward for a worldly mindset, and has nothing to do with following Christ.

Christ came to forgive us our sins and enable us to live fully in the kingdom of God.  There is nothing we can do to prove ourselves to him or earn his favor; success and accomplishment are meaningless to him.  Christ loves us first, and everything we do is in response to that love.  Rules meant to regulate our response are not from Christ, but from the world, and adhering to them in a measurable way turns us away from Christ and back towards the very things Christ came to save us from.

Jesus had a close relationship with his Father.  He was humble, and he lived simply.  All these things are good for us to imitate, but they are not regulations to be monitored by others.  God in Christ has already deemed us acceptable to him, poured upon us his grace, and called us his beloved.  What worldly measure of success can possibly be worth more than that?

Let us pray.  Liberating God, you freed us from the bonds of this world.  Open our eyes to misleading paths that appear to be pious, that we may not be led astray from your abundant grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Luke 11:1-13

“[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’  He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial.’”  Luke 11:1-4 (NRSV)

For some, the idea of going before God in prayer is rather frightening.  What if we ask for the wrong thing, or ask for it in the wrong way?  What if we’re too casual in our request, or too formal, and end up offending God?  What if he’s busy and doesn’t have time to listen to us?  How would we know?

There have been many books written on this subject, but we really only need to pay attention to one bit of advice: Jesus’ instructions on the matter.

Jesus tells us that God regards us as his beloved children, so we are to address him as ‘Father.’  This is a kind and loving Father who always has time to listen to his children’s requests.  God wants us to come to him in prayer!

Immediately after this rather intimate salutation is an acknowledgement of God’s holiness and his sovereignty over all the earth.  According to Jesus, there is room for both casual and formal address in our prayers to God!

Finally, in Jesus’ instructions on prayer, we come to the requests.  Jesus includes asking for what we need, confessing our sins, and revealing our deepest fears.

Sometimes when we ask for things from God, we’re not truly aware of what we’re asking.  Perhaps we think we’re asking for something we need, but in truth it’s a frivolous or greedy want.  In that case we’re actually confessing a sin, and God will help us to see it as such, and offer his forgiveness.  Or perhaps in our request for a certain object, possession, or situation, we’re actually speaking out of our fear of loss or insecurity.  God will hear our prayer and send us his comfort.

There is no wrong way to pray.  God is our loving Father and sovereign Lord.  He will provide us what we need, forgive us our sins, and comfort us in our fears.  He gladly hears whatever we have to say, whenever we need to say it.  All we have to do is speak.

Let us pray.  Ever-present God, you hear the prayers of your people.  Grant us the courage to speak and the ears to hear, that we may grow in our relationship with you.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Penteocst 10, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Esther 4:1-17

“Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish.  Who knows?  Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’”  Esther 4:13-14 (NRSV)

Esther was living safely in the palace as queen, while her people had been targeted for destruction by a petty and vindictive official.  Although she herself was Jewish, no one in the palace knew of her heritage, so she was most likely not in any immediate danger.  However, to go before her husband the king without being summoned risked her own death, so she hesitated to go and make supplication for her people.

While the names, places, and details have changed, the situation is still familiar to us today.  Many people suffer at the hands of injustice and hatred, while others—through luck or hard work or both—are protected from many of the dangers and ills of society.  To speak out against such evil would endanger their own comfort and safety, so they are reluctant to do anything but remain isolated and protected.

But such protection is illusory.  The powers of hatred and injustice will find their way through the thickest walls and into the most elite society.  They cannot be avoided; they can only be fought.  And those who have the most power can achieve the greatest victory, but only at the greatest risk.

Esther’s uncle Mordecai suggested that perhaps the very reason his niece had become queen was so that she would be able to stop this evil.  Indeed, there was no one else in the land with both the power and the will to intervene.  If she wasn’t willing to use her advantage to help the powerless, than what purpose did she serve?

What advantages do you enjoy?  How can you use what you have at your disposal to help those who aren’t as protected from prejudice, hatred, and injustice as you are?  And if you’re not willing to use what you have to help others, then what’s the point of you having such privilege in the first place?

Let us pray.  God of justice, you work through your people, the body of Christ on earth.  Inspire us to recognize the gifts you have given us, that we may use all our resources to bring peace and justice to all your creation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 10, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Acts 2:22-36

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day…This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.”  Acts 2:29, 32-33 (NRSV)

Many great people have been wonderful models of leadership, generosity, humility, wisdom, or piety, and each of them has left a lasting legacy of inspiration.  But none of them has been a savior.  While the effects of their inspirational legacy may still be seen in those who admire them, they themselves have died, and with their deaths their work in the world ceased.  Only their memories live on.

Jesus was a great leader and teacher who inspired many, yet his work in the world did not end with his death.  God raised him from the dead to live again, to live a life that would never again experience death, and Jesus continues his work today.

On that first Pentecost, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and enabled them to witness to thousands who came to believe because of their testimony.  Those apostles have long since died, but Jesus lives on, still pouring out his Holy Spirit, the effects of which others are able to see and hear.

Do not look for the dead among the living, and do not look for the living among the dead.  We can be inspired by many great people and respect their memories, but only Christ lives on with us in our day to day realities.

Let us pray.  Eternal Lord, you conquered death and brought about new life.  Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, that we may witness to your greatness and help others to experience your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 10, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by Esther 2:19-3:6

“When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance to him, Haman was infuriated.  But he thought it beneath him to lay hands on Mordecai alone.  So, having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.”  Esther 3:5-6 (NRSV)

We are a people of disproportionate escalations.  We are not satisfied with ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  When someone wrongs us, we want their suffering to be greater than that which they caused us.

Wars have been fought and countless lives have been lost due to revenge and retribution.  Many of those affected had nothing to do with the initial incident; they were just caught up in the disproportionate escalation that resulted.

Our God is a God of disproportionate escalation, too.  Only God escalates in the other direction.  We are sinners who have disobeyed and insulted God and even murdered his Son.  In response his Son defeated death and provided a way for us to experience eternal life.  God met our hatred with love, our insults with affirmation, and our stubbornness with patience.  Whatever evil we’ve done to God or to one another, God has responded with a grace beyond measure.

What might the world look like if we responded as God does?  Rather than meeting insults with violence, what if we met them with love?  How many lives might be changed for the better?

Let us pray.  Gracious God, your steadfast love endures forever.  Grant us your patience, that we may help overcome the world’s evil with your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 119:97-104

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”  Psalm 119:103-104 (NRSV)

Many people hold the opinion that God’s law is restrictive and oppressive, perpetuating an arbitrary and antiquated standard of living that has no relevance to modern, enlightened life.  Yet these same people will profess a desire for a world in which justice, peace, and prosperity are embraced as normative for all.

God’s law is all about justice, peace, and prosperity for all!  Even those portions of the bible that are specific to a cultural context which no longer exists are addressing issues of justice, peace, and prosperity.  While the context has changed, the intent has not.

God’s vision for the world is one in which no one suffers at the hand of another and the earth’s abundant resources are distributed in such a way that no one experiences hunger or depravity.  Prosperity is defined as having enough to meet one’s needs.  God’s law lays out for us how to achieve this vision.

Consider the words of the Lord in light of the vision he lays out.  You will find them neither restrictive nor oppressive, but healing and empowering, instead.

Let us pray.  God of salvation, you have planted within us a desire for the world you have envisioned.  Open our eyes to your wisdom, that we may follow your precepts and help bring about your kingdom.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by 1 John 2:1-6

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  1 John 2:1-2 (NRSV)

The grace of Christ is not to be taken lightly, and Christians are called to follow and obey the Lord in all they say and do.  ‘Saved by grace’ is not a license to act according to our own desires, spurning God’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him.

In an effort to encourage faithfulness, some Christian leaders have emphasized the evils of sin.  They want to inspire Christians to obedience, so they have described in detail the sufferings and punishments due to sinners, or the ways in which believers can forever taint or damage themselves by committing a single sin.  While well-intentioned, this emphasis distorts the gospel message of Jesus Christ, and can cause a great deal of harm to faithful believers.

God the Father sent his Son because we were sinners, and Christ’s sacrifice covered all our sins, those we’d already committed and those we’ve yet to commit.  While we are indeed called to follow and obey the commandments of the Lord, none of us is able to do that perfectly all the time.  We will fail.  That means we will sin.  And we are forgiven.

No sin can taint or damage us forever unless we allow it to, unless we actively spurn the grace of Christ which covers and forgives that sin.  In Christ we are new creations; he has died and defeated death so that we need not ever suffer or be punished for our sins, and he will advocate for us as often as we need it.

Let us pray.  Forgiving God, out of love you sent your Son to atone for our sins.  Help us to live as new creations, that we may be freed from the burden of our sin and live boldly and without fear of your wrath.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Colossians 1:27-2:7

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”  Colossians 2:6-7 (NRSV)

If you had to sum up the core of your being in a single word or phrase, what would it be?  Delve into the deepest, most secret place in your heart.  What do you see there?

Many of us feel uncomfortable delving into the deepest, most secret places of our hearts.  That’s where we bury our shame, our failings, and all the other ugly parts of ourselves that we want to hide from the world.  While we try to present ourselves as strong, confident, and happy, deep down we despise the charade, because we are really insecure, inadequate, and frightened.  Every good thing we do is tainted by our feelings of shame, and we are unable to see ourselves or the world in a truly positive light.

But Christ Jesus has covered your shame.  He’s looked at your failings and other ugly parts and declared you beautiful and worthy.  However deep your shame and guilt may be, his love and forgiveness are deeper.

Recognize Christ’s love and acceptance as the core of your being, and let all your actions grow from that.  See yourself and the world through the eyes of the One who looked around and said, “Yes, I will die for them, for they are worth it.”

Let us pray.  Tender Lord, you have healed our brokenness.  Help us to recognize your grace dwelling within us, that we may define ourselves according to your loving kindness.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.