Pentecost 15, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Matthew 20:20-28

“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’”  Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

In this life, it is difficult to achieve power or influence.  Most people choose their own sources of authority and disregard anything that doesn’t meet their preference, regardless of how worthy a source may be.  Christians are often met by people who refuse to accept the authority of the bible and don’t believe in God, and we find our arguments and our influence disregarded by those we are trying to persuade and rejected by those we are trying to help.

But Christ did not come to make an argument.  The Son of God did not come to assert his power and authority over the unbelievers of first century Palestine.  Jesus came to serve, and he taught his disciples to serve, and service is the legacy we have inherited.

Part of the reason why so many people refuse to hear about the authority of God is because Christianity has a history of tyranny and abuse of power.  Over the ages many of our brothers and sisters have bludgeoned their neighbors with the word of God and condemned many in the name of the living Christ.  Worship compelled by fear is no worship, and faith extorted by threats is no faith.

But despite the absence of recognized authority in our proclamations of faith, we are still called to witness.  People are on guard against those who would tell them what to do and take a position over them, but they are more willing to allow someone to serve them and take a position beneath them.  Don’t try to convince people of God’s love with your words; show them God’s love with your actions.

Let us pray.  God of love, you humbled yourself to achieve our salvation.  Enable us to humble ourselves, that we may proclaim your grace with our lives.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 15, Friday, Year C

Inspired by 1 Peter 4:7-11

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.  Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.  To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever.  Amen.”  1 Peter 4:10-11 (NRSV)

What is the best way to serve God?  The answer is deceptively simple and maddeningly complex: it depends.

Who are you?  What is your environment?  What is your personality?  What are your gifts?  What are your interests?  There are unlimited ways to serve God, and each of us is called to serve in a way unique to us.  The best way for Person A to serve may turn out to be a disaster if Person B tried it; it all depends on one’s own specific gifts, abilities, and passions.

Serving the Lord is not to be done lightly or casually; it’s a lifelong calling, and people’s perception of the Lord of all is at stake.  Don’t try to be something you’re not because someone else told you that’s what you’re supposed to do; you, God, and the people you’re serving deserve better than that.  They deserve authenticity, and that can only happen when we discern who God created us to be and figure out for ourselves how best to serve him.

We have already received his grace; we have nothing to prove.  God created you specifically and individually, and you have been shaped by your own context and experiences.  All of that comes together to make you uniquely suited for a particular ministry; go and minister in that way!

Let us pray.  Lord of all, you know us better than we know ourselves.  Reveal to us your will for our lives, that we may serve you diligently and faithfully.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 15, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 1 Peter 3:8-12

“Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.  It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.”  1 Peter 3:9 (NRSV)

In these days of cynicism and self-absorption, many people proudly proclaim that they will only be kind to those who show them kindness; they will only be compassionate towards those who show them compassion.  And they will be dismissive of those who dismiss them, and cruel to those who show them cruelty.  It’s a mindset that many can understand.  Why waste your time and effort on those who aren’t worth it?  And isn’t it biblical?  An eye for an eye and all that?

As understandable (and as biblical) as such an approach may be, it is nonetheless an unacceptable stance for Christians to take.  What would have happened if Jesus had only decided to save those who followed him faithfully?  None of us today would know him, and even his own disciples, who scattered and fled when Jesus was being killed, would be lost.  But Jesus showed mercy to those who had none, and his love and salvation is based on our need for it, and not on how well we deserve it.

As Christians we are called to model that love.  There are many in this world who are cruel and unkind because that’s all they know how to be; that’s all they’ve ever known from anyone else.  When someone who has only ever been scorned and belittled treats us harshly, we have the opportunity to witness to the redemptive power of Christ by repaying that abuse with gentleness and understanding.  This does not mean leaving ourselves in a position of danger and accepting repeated abuse, but there is no need to become equally abusive back; we can remove ourselves from danger while still offering a hand of compassion and assistance.  It may not be accepted, but we are still called to make the offer.

God sent his Son for our salvation when we had done nothing to earn his mercy and everything to earn his judgment.  As Christians, it is up to us to continue that pattern and extend the love of Christ to all who need it, regardless of their perceived worthiness.

Let us pray.  Forgiving Lord, you died for us while we were yet sinners.  Help us to recognize those who do evil as those who need your grace, that we may be emboldened to witness to the redemptive power of your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Ezekiel 20:33-44

“There you shall remember your ways and all the deeds by which you have polluted yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed.  And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, or corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, says the Lord God.”  Ezekiel 20:43-44 (NRSV)

We make a lot of mistakes.  We do a lot of things wrong.  We tell lies or exaggerate the truth in order to make ourselves look better.  We disregard the suffering of others because we don’t want to be too inconvenienced.  We cause others pain, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose.  We enjoy the fruits of sin and recognize that selfishness and callousness will get us further in this world than humility and compassion.  Some of us are in this state despite our best efforts; some of us are in this state because of them.

But there comes a time—for all of us—when we despise what we’ve become.  We’re ashamed of what we’ve done, and we fear that it’s too late to become the person we know God intended us to be.  We know we’ve sinned, and we know we deserve punishment for what we’ve done.

But God is a merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He knows we’ve sinned, too, and he is grieved by those sins.  But he grieves because of the damage we’ve done not only to others, but to ourselves.  He recognizes our own suffering as well as the suffering of others, and he rejoices that we desire to change.  And because of his mercy, he deals with us not according to what we’ve done, but according to who he is.  He is Immanuel, God With Us, the God who is, who was, and who will be, and he has made us his own.  He will remove our shame from us and restore us to his grace, and he will be our God, and we will be his people.

It is never too late to return to the Lord your God.

Let us pray.  Merciful God, you are grieved by the harm we do to others and to ourselves.  Turn our hearts toward you, that we may receive your grace and be freed from our shame.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Revelation 3:7-13

“I know your works.  Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.  I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”  Revelation 3:8 (NRSV)

Sometimes it feels as though there is so much working against us.  We have little control over many aspects of our lives, and it seems as though we’re doing everything we can just to survive.  On the good days the world seems completely indifferent to our needs and our struggles; on the bad days the world seems intent on destroying us.  And all of our best efforts at changing our situations fail.

But whatever else the world may throw at us, it cannot block our path to God.  He has set before us an open door, and there is no power in this world capable of shutting it.  He is always available to us, comforting us in our current agony, staying with us in our isolation, showing us opportunities to improve things incrementally.

One does not need to be great and powerful to be of value to God.  One does not need to make grand and sweeping changes in the world to be recognized by him.  Keep his word and trust in his name.  Search for him in the ugliness and you will find his beauty.  When all hope seemed lost our Savior allowed himself to be nailed to the cross, and his victory over death transformed a horrifying device of torture and murder into a symbol of hope and love recognized all over the world.

His deliverance is sure.  Look to the cross, and see the glory of the Lord.

Let us pray.  God of hope and healing, you have established a path for your people.  Empower us to remain focused on you, that we may be hopeful and steadfast during our times of struggle.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Hebrews 3:7-4:11

“So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.  Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.”  Hebrews 4:9-11 (NRSV)

We work so hard at so many things.  We work to earn a living, to provide for ourselves and our loved ones.  We work to care for our children and raise them to be healthy, functioning adults.  We work to be good citizens, contributing to our society.  We work to develop our gifts, that we may truly be the people God created us to be.  And we work to be good Christians, worshiping and serving God, trying to obey his commandments and discern his will in all that we do.

But there comes a time when we need to stop working.  It’s true that the work will never be done; there’s always more we could do, more we should do, more we need to do.  But there’s only so much that we can do.

God knows how heavy our burdens are; that’s why he gave us the sabbath.  A regular time of rest from our labors is not just another commandment to keep, but a healing balm for our bodies, minds, and souls.  It’s also a recognition that our salvation and the salvation of the world does not rely on our diligence; if we take a sabbath day of rest, all is not lost.  God continues his work in the world and in our lives, even as we cease from our labors for a time.

Obedience to God’s sabbath commandment does not have to be complicated: let go, just for a little while, and trust God to be God.

Let us pray.  God of the sabbath, you bless both our labors and our rest.  Help us to embrace your sabbath rest, that our trust in you may grow.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Luke 13:10-17

“Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.  She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’  When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’”  Luke 13:10-14 (NRSV)

We put a lot into our worship experiences.  Even if our church buildings are actively being used for ministry throughout the week, we try to keep the sanctuary uncluttered and worship times free from other responsibilities.  We try to remember that God is God, and we keep that before us as we enter into his presence to worship and praise him, to join our prayers corporately with others, and to be reminded of his constant presence with us through word and sacrament.  Our worship time is sacred, and we don’t want anything getting in the way of that.

And all that is right and good.  God commanded the sabbath to be kept holy, that God’s people may enjoy a rest from their labors and a day on which to remember and worship him.

But one of the things we’re to remember on our sabbath days is that God is merciful and just, and that he goes and has gone to great lengths to provide for the wellbeing of his people.  And such a God would rather worship be delayed or disrupted than have one of his children be made to suffer for one moment longer.

It is right to set apart times to come before God in worship and prayer together with others of the faith.  But it is also right for those who need God’s grace to come to his house and to his people and expect to be treated with mercy and compassion, regardless of the day or the time.

As Christians we are called to watch vigilantly for the coming of the Lord.  Let us also watch vigilantly for those coming to the Lord, that we may demonstrate his grace and thus proclaim his gospel.

Let us pray.  Compassionate Lord, you came to us and met us in our need.  Soften our hearts, that we may be gracious and merciful to all who suffer.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 103:1-8

“The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.  The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  Psalm 103:6-8 (NRSV)

Judaism became established as a religion when God gave Moses the Torah, the first five books of our bible.  It was in this way that God revealed himself to Moses and to the people of Israel.  It was in this way that God told the people who he was and what he was about.

Who is God?  What is he about?  If you look at the book of Genesis, you see a loving God who goes to great lengths to create a bountiful world for his people to enjoy.  Through no action or merit of their own, God chooses them to be recipients of his grace; when they wander away from him, God provides a way for them to return to his favor.

Even the many rules in Leviticus that seem so arbitrary and restrictive to our modern ears served to protect the rights and wellbeing of the disenfranchised and ensure peace and equity for all.  As the social contexts have changed many of the details of how to live in God’s favor have also changed, but God himself has not changed, nor has his priorities.

The God who revealed himself to Moses was a God who works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.  The God who revealed himself to Moses was a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The God who revealed himself to Moses is the same God we worship today, and he still works vindication and justice for the oppressed.  He is still merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Thanks be to God!

Let us pray.  God of the ages, since the very beginning you have been concerned with justice for the oppressed and grace and mercy for all of us sinners.  Help us to receive your grace and work for your justice, that we may help this world to be the world you intended.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Acts 17:1-9

“After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I am proclaiming to you.’  Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.”  Acts 17:1-4 (NRSV)

The bible is the written word of God, and we turn to it for guidance and for comfort.  But does it really say what we think it says?

Today there are many Christians who stand in opposition against one another because they interpret the bible differently.  They read the words that were written two or three millennia ago and try to understand what they’re telling us today.  History and tradition are appealed to, as are social and historical contextual studies, as well as ‘plain meaning’ and common sense.  And at the end of the discussion faithful Christians disagree on what God’s word says to the point of accusing each other of not being ‘truly’ Christian.

Paul was a devout Jew who went to a synagogue and interpreted the Hebrew scriptures in a new and radical way.  The Jewish faith had been around for over a thousand years, much of it based on traditions that were even older.  In the previous several hundred years, Jews had been actively looking for the Messiah, and they looked in the Hebrew scriptures and determined from them that the Messiah would be a powerful ruler and king who would restore Israel to its former political glory.  Paul told them that they’d gotten it wrong, and used those same scriptures to demonstrate a completely different understanding of the Messiah, and how those scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus.

The scriptures had not changed; the word of God had not changed.  God’s word just didn’t say what the people had thought it said.

Are you open to hearing the eternal word of God in new ways?  How might your understanding of God’s work in the world change if you allow the Spirit to guide you to new interpretations of God’s written word?

Let us pray.  Eternal God, you are unchanging, but our world is not.  Help us to understand your ongoing work in this ever-changing world, that we may appreciate the dynamic nature of your radical grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by Numbers 15:32-41

“The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner.  You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes.  So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God.”  Numbers 15:37-40 (NRSV)

Many Christians follow a spiritual discipline of wearing certain garments or accessories, or eating or avoiding specific foods.  They are sometimes criticized by others for these disciplines.  They are accused of creating unnecessary barriers to God’s mercy or putting their trust in their own works rather than God’s grace.  Indeed, if they insist that their practices are necessary for salvation then those criticisms may be justified.

However many of the people who engage in these spiritual practices do so to remind themselves of God’s will as they go about their ordinary, everyday lives.  It’s easy to forget the love of God in Christ when we’re battling traffic, sitting in endless meetings at work, cleaning, or doing any number of the mundane activities that take up the bulk of our time.  But wearing a visible reminder of that love, or choosing to adjust our eating patterns, can serve to bring Christ to the forefront of our awareness, and better enable us to respond to his grace.

God is with us at all times and in all places; his grace and his will are always applicable.  How do you remind yourself of his presence at those times when it’s so easy to forget?

Let us pray.  Ever-present God, you call us to live according to your will.  Help us to remember you in our ordinary times, that we may always be aware of your extraordinary grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.