Pentecost 19, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Revelation 3:14-22

“For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’  You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”  Revelation 3:17 (NRSV)

Someone who has lived in an agrarian barter economy for his entire life does not know the value of an ounce of gold.  Someone who has lived according to the strict and enforceable language of legal contracts does not know the power of a handshake deal backed by a person’s honor.  And those who have lived their lives in pursuit of riches and power for their own personal use and comfort do not know the inestimable value of the love of God in Christ.  In their quest for monetary wealth, they have lived in ignorance of the poverty of their spirit.  In their focus on the things of this world, they have failed to grasp the existence of another world.  As they’ve treated other people as commodities, they’ve not recognized their own inherent worth as beloved children of God.

God has lovingly and intentionally created each and every one of us to live in his good creation.  Our value to him is not based on monetary wealth or worldly power, but on his own love and grace that he’s bestowed upon us.  When we refuse to acknowledge our dependence on him, we deny ourselves the experience of his love, and we impoverish ourselves beyond comprehension.

Recognize your dependence so you may recognize your worth, and experience God’s unconditional love regardless of what the world may think of you.

Let us pray.  Creator God, all good things come from you.  Help us to see ourselves through your eyes, that we may strive for those things that will bring us closer to you.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Inspired by 1 Timothy 6:6-19

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”  1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NRSV)

What is it that we really need for ‘the good life?’  What do we require in order to be happy?

Many of us go through life working to obtain things and objects, accumulating more and more, always striving for that one last possession which will finally make us happy, only to find there’s something else we lack.  When we seek to fill the emptiness in our lives with commodities, we never achieve that blissful state of ‘enough.’

We came into this world with nothing, and when we leave it, we’ll leave behind everything we’ve acquired and accomplished.  What do you want to leave behind?  Transitory items for your heirs to fight over?  Or do you want to leave behind people who will miss you, who will remember the positive impact you had on their lives, who will emulate the love and generosity you shared with others?

Certainly we need food, clothing, and shelter, but once you’ve achieved those basic necessities, focus your energies on something not of this world—the love of God in Christ—that you may be content in this life and rich in the next.

Let us pray.  God of abundance, you are rich in love and mercy.  Enable us to strive for your kingdom, that we may be content to have only those things we need on this earth.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 19, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 9:43b-48

“‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’  But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it.  And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.  An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest.”  Luke 9:44-46 (NRSV)

Life is complex and messy.  When God broke into human history he took on all our messiness, and the resulting theology can be difficult for us to hear and understand.  And when we don’t understand something, we shy away from it, pick another issue, and fight about that as though it were the most important thing in the world.  The number of issues we allow to divide us is countless.  We spend more time fighting over secondary or even petty doctrinal issues than we do worshiping the One who unites us.

But we are not called to fight amongst ourselves.  God in Christ came to us in our messiness, and he knows our limitations.  We need not fear bringing our confusion and our doubts to him; he came to take our confusion, our doubts, and our sinfulness upon himself.

The Son of Man was betrayed into human hands, but that betrayal was not the final word.  God in Christ met that betrayal with forgiveness, and turned his death in to new life.  Bring him your fear, that he may give you courage.  Bring him your confusion, that he may give you wisdom.  And do not let your doubts lead you to quarrel with others; bring your doubts to your Savior, and let him give you assurances of his love and grace instead.

Let us pray.  God of unity, you bring order out of chaos.  Help us to refrain from fighting amongst ourselves, that we may focus instead on your grace which unites us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 19, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Ephesians 2:1-10

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”  Ephesians 2:4-6 (NRSV)

Does God love us because of what we do?  Is he up there in heaven watching us with a little check-list, making sure we’re good enough people or doing enough ‘Christian’ things to earn ourselves a decent place in the afterlife?  Hardly!

God in Christ saved us when we had no interest in him.  We had accomplished nothing but our own condemnation, yet God’s love for us was so great that he sent his only Son to show us the way home.  It is the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that raises us out of the depths of our own sinfulness, and promises us eternity in God’s presence.

Respond to that grace with good deeds and a recognition of the inherent worth of all God’s creation, but don’t try to earn that which has already been given to you.  God already loves you; you don’t have to impress him.  God has already decided in your favor; don’t try to prove your worth.  Rest secure in God’s love and mercy, and experience to the fullest your new life in Jesus Christ.

Let us pray.  God who is rich in mercy, your great love inspired you to rescue us from our sin.  Help us to let go of our sinful pasts, that we may live our new lives in peace and love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 19, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 8:8-15

“For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.  I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.”  2 Corinthians 8:12-14 (NRSV)

In this world we are expected to look out for ourselves and prosper by seeking our own advantage.  We celebrate as heroes those who start out with nothing and manage to build a vast fortune for themselves.  We proudly point to our own accomplishments, our own self-sufficiency, and we disdain anyone who isn’t able to achieve at least our own level of success for themselves.

This may work for a few, but it completely disregards the communal nature of God’s creation.

In truth, no one is able to achieve success completely by their own merits.  There are always others who paved the roads we walk, trained the teachers who taught us, built the businesses that provided the opportunities we were able to grab.  Some of us got more help than others, and therefore have achieved a higher level of success.  And for most of us, what we have is transitory.  It took years of hard work to accomplish what we have; we can lose it all in much less time.  And then we wonder, who will help us now?

God does not expect some to work hard and others to live off the labor of their neighbors; God does understand that fortune is fickle.  Today’s heroes may fall tomorrow, and if they’ve spent their lives looking out only for themselves, there will be no one inspired to help them in their time of need.  But if they’ve been generous with the fruits of their labor, then others will be generous with the fruits of their labor, and no one will suffer want.

Are you contributing to a fair balance in society?  How might you address an imbalance?

Let us pray.  God of abundance, your people experience both prosperity and want.  Help us to eliminate both extremes, that all may enjoy the fruits of their own labor and that all will have their needs met.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 18, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 20:45-21:4

“[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’”  Luke 21:1-4 (NRSV)

We are very busy people with a lot of obligations and responsibilities.  Our jobs, our families, our friends, our leisure activities, our chores, and our errands all take up a great deal of our time and energy.  Quite frequently our relationship with God gets put aside and ignored until we have time to devote to him, after we’ve done everything else.

But God is not the least important thing in your life, satisfied to wait and accept whatever time or energy you have left over; nor is God separate from your other obligations and responsibilities.  God has the power to strengthen you and guide you in your job, with your family, and as you go about doing everything you need to do.  But in order to do that he must be your foundation, your first priority.

Martin Luther is famous for commenting, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to get it all done.”  Rather than taking on the world by yourself and giving God whatever’s left over, consider giving your entire life over to him.  Let him be your guide and your strength as you meet your obligations and responsibilities, and your relationship with your savior will deepen and improve.

Let us pray.  God of power, with you all things are possible.  Enable us to turn our whole lives over to you, that we may experience your grace and power in all that we do.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 18, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”  1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (NRSV)

The good news of Jesus Christ comes to all people as they are, but in many cases people are unable to accept it because of the messengers.  With something as personal and life-changing as salvation through Christ, it’s difficult to look at the person making the proclamation and discern how much of their being is influenced by their salvation and how much is influenced by their culture, personality, and natural gifts.  The person in need of salvation may believe that accepting Christ’s salvation would require them to look a certain way, think a certain way, or behave a certain way, because that’s how the messenger of the gospel looks, thinks, or behaves.

When we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, we must be aware of how we present it.  To whatever extent we are able, we are called to meet people where they are.  People are able to be followers of Christ in a multitude of cultures and environments, and God has blessed his people with a wide variety of gifts.  To follow him means to use one’s gifts in their own context; adopting the gifts or cultural assumptions of the one from whom we first heard the gospel is neither necessary nor even advisable.

God took on human flesh and met us in the midst of our sinfulness.  We are called not to bring people to us, but to bring the gospel to people wherever they are.

Let us pray.  Merciful God, you created a diverse world full of diverse people.  Help us to understand the difference between unity and uniformity, that we may remove artificial barriers to salvation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 18, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Proverbs 14:12-31

“The poor are disliked even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.  Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor.”  Proverbs 14:20-21 (NRSV)

When you encounter someone who is poor, what are your initial thoughts about them?  Do you resent the woman using food stamps to pay for her groceries, examining the items in her cart to see if you approve of her choices?  Do you judge the man who has been living off unemployment benefits for over a year, believing he is too lazy to work?  Are you offended by the number of people who get public assistance with their living expenses while you work so hard and make sacrifices to pay your own way?

As understandable as these feelings may be, they are not condoned by God.  We are not equipped to distinguish between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.  While there certainly are those who take unfair advantage of the system, we don’t know anyone’s story, and we have no business sitting in judgment over them.  Our society may blame the poor for their own plight and consider poverty a crime to be punished, but God sees things differently.

Each and every person in this world, from the very rich to the very poor, is our neighbor.  Some of our neighbors are doing pretty well for themselves, through both honest and dishonest means.  Some of our neighbors are struggling to get by, sometimes because of poor choices they’ve made and sometimes because of circumstances beyond their control.  As Christians, we are called to help those who are struggling for whatever reason, and encourage to good works those who have the means to perform them.  We ourselves are called to use our means to help those who are less fortunate.  And we are also called to depend on the kindness of God’s people when we suffer misfortune ourselves.

Let us pray.  Generous God, you do not consider poverty a character flaw.  Give us kind and generous hearts, that we may share the bounty you have given us with those who are struggling.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by 1 Timothy 2:1-7

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”  1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NRSV)

What is the government’s responsibility to its people?  To what degree should it participate in the protection, well-being, and prosperity of its citizens?

These questions spark fierce and divisive debate.  Some believe the government should provide only the minimum infrastructure and protections to allow people to make their own way, reaping what they sow, prospering or suffering based on their own efforts and abilities.  Others believe the government has a vested interest in ensuring the prosperity and well-being of all within its borders, and should be proactive in redistributing wealth and providing financial and social incentives for certain beneficial behaviors.  Yet others fall somewhere in the middle.  And frequently, when the government leadership does not agree with our own personal position, we pray for the removal of that leadership, writing them off as a lost cause.

The government is one tool among many that God uses to work his will in the world.  While the specifics of how it’s to be accomplished are open for debate, every leader in government is charged with ensuring a quiet, peaceable, and dignified life for every citizen.  And every leader in government is a beloved child of God, called to use their worldly power to accomplish God’s good purposes.  If they are failing in their responsibilities, as evidenced by a portion of the population lacking dignity and basic necessities, we must not write them off, but work through prayer and our own abilities to show them the error of their ways, hoping to turn their hearts back to the Lord and his will.

Every human being is entitled to a peaceful and dignified life, and every human being—whether a powerful government leader or a lowly individual on the margins of society—is called to use everything in their power to ensure peace and dignity for everyone.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you are Lord of all people.  Help us to recognize powerful people who don’t agree with us as your beloved children, that we can work together to achieve your will in the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 18, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Isaiah 5:8-23

“Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!  The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing: Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.”  Isaiah 5:8-9 (NRSV)

We live in a consumer culture where the prevailing motto is “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  We are encouraged to buy more and bigger things, and our worth and importance is judged by how much we have acquired.  Those who aren’t able to accumulate as much find themselves struggling to hold onto what they have, as the limited material resources of the world are concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

But this is not the vision of the world that the Lord has for us.  What are those few people going to do with all they have?  Why is having so much necessary or even desirable?  There is no true shortage of resources in the world, only an abundance of greed that results in some having more than they need and others suffering want and privation.  And when we die, we will not be called to give an account of how much we’ve accumulated, but of how well we’ve regarded the deeds of the Lord and exalted him by doing justice.

There is nothing wrong with seeking decent shelter and a comfortable life for yourself, provided you regard the deeds of the Lord and act justly toward his people in your endeavors.  Live according to his ways, see to your own needs, and make room for others to do the same.  Material resources may be limited, but God’s grace and mercy are abundant.

Let us pray.  God of abundance, you provide enough resources for all your people.  Free us from our greed, that we may live justly and humbly with all your people.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.