Pentecost 24, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

“For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.”  2 Corinthians 1:5 (NRSV)

No one wants to suffer, yet suffering is a part of life, even for the faithful Christian.  Obediently following the will of the Lord guarantees no protection from suffering, and in fact increases the likelihood of suffering, since by following Christ we put ourselves at odds with the values of the world.  As a result, many Christians take comfort in reminding themselves that Christ himself suffered on our account, and when we suffer for the sake of the faith we’re sharing in his sufferings.

But such assurances can seem like no more than empty words when we’re in the midst of our own suffering, especially suffering that has nothing at all to do with standing strong in the faith.  Much suffering is simply a result of being human in a fallen world.  At such times we feel isolated and alone, separated from the love of God and the concern of other people by a deep and wide chasm.  And at such times we care not for the sufferings of Christ, but for his consolation.

The word we translate as ‘consolation’ is the Greek parakaleo: para (beside) and kaleo (to call or invite).  The consolation of Christ is no awkward pat on the shoulder attempting to give comfort; the consolation of Christ is Christ standing with us in our suffering, sharing it with us, bearing it with us, and assuring us that we are not alone.  And because we share in Christ’s suffering and he shares in ours, we also share in his resurrection.  We know that even though he suffered death on the cross, he also defeated death and received new life, a life which he gladly shares with us.

No matter how alone you may feel in your suffering, know that God in Christ is with you.  He has invited you to stand with him, and he will take your suffering upon himself and raise you up to new life in him.

Let us pray.  God of consolation, you have called us to stand by your side.  Comfort us with your presence, that we may know your victory over all that afflicts us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Matthew 21:28-32

“Jesus said to [the chief priests and elders], ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.’”  Matthew 21:31b-32 (NRSV)

Increasingly we are able to surround ourselves only with those who agree with us and support what we already believe.  We get our news from outlets that are biased toward our own worldview; we get our analysis from commentators known to have a political agenda similar to our own.  We listen only to the voices that reinforce our own entrenched positions, and we never allow ourselves to be challenged by a different interpretation.  Whenever we do encounter a different interpretation or worldview, we dismiss the validity of the position by attacking and devaluing the people who hold it, failing to recognize that they too may have something of importance to add to the conversation.

We are blinding ourselves to much of God’s work in the world, and we’re not the first to do so.

The Pharisees were confident in the truth of their own understandings.  They knew they were righteous, and they equated righteousness with themselves.  They failed to recognize righteousness when it came to them in another form, such as John the Baptist.  They were repelled by the ‘unrighteous’ company that followed him: tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners.  Such people couldn’t possibly know anything about God, so the Pharisees felt free to reject and revile them and what they proclaimed.

The Pharisees had impoverished themselves out of the richness of God’s mercy.

God works in many ways and through many people; he is generous with his abundant grace and mercy.  Don’t deprive yourself of his richness by isolating yourself inside your own understanding; God’s work goes far beyond your personal experience, and his love joins together people with a variety of worldviews.  There are many people, many interpretations, many opinions, and one God embracing us all with his love.

Let us pray.  Lord of righteousness, your work is beyond our comprehension.  Open our eyes to the diversity of your love, that we may recognize your mercy in places we wouldn’t otherwise look.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Daniel 5:1-12

“So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.  They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.”  Daniel 5:3-4  (NRSV)

We are able to perceive much with our senses.  We can recognize beauty and appreciate value, and we can enjoy fine things.  But in many ways our senses are also very limited.  We can only observe what is right in front of us, and we cannot always understand that what we comprehend is only a small piece of something much larger.

King Belshazzar of Babylon was enjoying a great festival when he called for the costly vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar had plundered from the temple in Jerusalem.  He used them to hold the wine he and his entourage were drinking, and they recognized their beauty and value.  But they did not understand that they were looking at a small part of God’s good creation, and instead they honored nonexistent deities of the lifeless elements used to create such beautiful vessels.

We can observe a stunning sunset or experience the calming peace of the wind passing through the leaves.  We can be thankful for brilliant bouquets of flowers or plentiful harvests.  We can marvel at the strength of the ocean or the placidness of a lake.  None of these things are divine in and of themselves, and none of them owe their existence to their own unique god.  All point to the One God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who had made his house the temple in Jerusalem, the God who sent his only Son to die on the cross for the salvation of the world.

Let us pray.  God of all creation, all things point to you.  Grant us the eyes to perceive your goodness in all things, that we may honor you as we experience the beauty of your creation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Monday, Year C

Inspired by 1 Samuel 2:1-10

“Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.  The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.”  1 Samuel 2:3-5a (NRSV)

As time moves ever forward, as years come and go and we as individuals and as a species grow with their passing, our knowledge of how our world works increases.  We understand many of the laws of science, and we comprehend cause and effect.  We can look at the available information, analyze it, and predict logical outcomes.  We use those predictions to plan our own actions, confident that things will always turn out as we expect.

But we do not know as much as we think we do.

The world operates on the assumption that strength and wealth are of paramount importance, and therefore those who possess such attributes are more important than those who don’t.  Those who are weak or poor are seen as expendable, perhaps even worthless.  But the weak and the poor are beloved children of the Lord’s as well, and even when everything we know tells us that the weak will always be weak and the poor will always be poor, God is able to reverse the fortunes of the lowly and the powerful alike.

We may have eaten from the tree of knowledge, but God created that tree, and all knowledge of good and evil ultimately comes from him.  Trust not in your own understanding, but turn instead to the Lord.  Consider the world according to his love, and not your own powers of analysis.

Let us pray.  God of knowledge, the world operates according to the processes you created for it.  Open our eyes to your ways, that we may be humble in our own understanding.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Reformation Sunday, Year C

Inspired by John 8:31-36

“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’  They answered him, ‘We are descendents of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.  What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’”  John 8:31-33 (NRSV)

Much of our lives is shaped by our beliefs.  How we conduct ourselves, how we interact with loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers, what we prioritize and value—all of that is largely shaped by what we believe about ourselves, others, and the world in general.

But what if what we believe is wrong?

God rescued the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  That event is the focal point of many of the psalms and prayers in Jewish worship.  But no one wants to be thought of as a slave, so the Jews of Jesus’ day denied that the children of Abraham had ever been enslaved, despite the existence of numerous sacred texts declaring otherwise.  And by doing so they declared themselves already free.

And since they believed they were already free, they believed Jesus had nothing to offer them.

They were wrong.

We want the freedom and the salvation that come from Christ, but first we must acknowledge that we are not already free, and that we’re in need of salvation.  These truths point to some ugly and uncomfortable aspects about ourselves, aspects we’d rather ignore, but they’re a part of us, whether we like it or not.  But Jesus is not put off by the ugliness of our past or the imperfection of our current state; those are the very reasons why he came.

There’s a truth about yourself that you wish didn’t exist; Christ can make that truth not matter.  In him you are set free, and while that truth may still be a part of you, it won’t define you.  The love of God in Christ will do that.

Let us pray.  God of truth, you know all things.  Embrace us in your mercy, that your truth will set us free.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 1:46-55

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”  Luke 1:51-53 (NRSV)

What does it take to topple oppressive regimes, right injustices, and improve the lot of countless disenfranchised people?  It takes hope.

Mary was a young Jewish girl in ancient Palestine, engaged to be married, who was told by the angel Gabriel that she would be overshadowed by the power of the Most High.  As a result she would become pregnant and bear a child who would be the Son of God.  Shortly afterwards, the newly pregnant Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also miraculously pregnant with a child heralded by Gabriel.  And when the two women greeted each other Mary burst out in the song we call the Magnificat, in which she praises the God of Israel for fulfilling the promise he’d made so long ago.

But at this point in the narrative, God in Christ hadn’t done any of those things.  The infant Jesus was barely formed in Mary’s womb; he hadn’t yet been born.  The proud had not yet been scattered; the powerful were still on their thrones and the lowly were still low.  The hungry were still hungry, and the rich still rich.

But Mary had hope in the angel’s words, and in the power of the God of Israel.  She had no idea how her son would accomplish all those things, but she was certain that he would.  When he was born, she raised him with that hope, and Jesus has been fulfilling those promises ever since.

We can look at the state of our world, feel hopeless, and give up on ever making it better.  Or we can cling to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, and partner with him to spread God’s love and justice throughout the world.

Let us pray.  All powerful God, you gave Mary the opportunity to partner with you in bringing about the world’s salvation.  Inspire us to be as open to your will as she was, that we may work with your Son to fulfill the hope people have in him.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Jeremiah 9:17-26

“Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.”  Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NRSV)

Some of us are blessed with great intellect and wisdom, with which we can understand the ways of the world and how to operate within it to our best advantage.  Some of us are blessed with great strength, with which we can fight and win battles for resources.  Some of us are blessed with great wealth, with which we can purchase power and influence, directing the systems of the world to benefit our own interests.  But none of these things impress the Lord, and none of these things can be used to win his favor.

The Lord God has no objection to someone being wise, strong, or wealthy.  But he does object to that wisdom, strength, or wealth being worshipped as a God, or extraordinary power being attributed to them.  The Lord is Lord of all, and his desire for the world is that all experience his steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.

If you find yourself blessed with great wisdom, strength, or wealth, do not trust in these attributes to ensure your wellbeing, and do not use them for your own gain.  Use your wisdom to recognize systemic problems that oppress and exploit the vulnerable for the convenience of the powerful, and work to correct them.  Use your strength to protect and fight for those who cannot protect or fight for themselves.  Use your wealth to ensure all people live in dignity and health.  These are the things in which God delights, and these are the things of which we should be proud.

Let us pray.  God of wisdom, might, and wealth, all good things come from you.  Enable us to recognize our gifts and use them for your good purposes, that we may understand and know your ways and serve you faithfully.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Timothy 3:1-9

“You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come.  For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.  Avoid them!”  2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NRSV)

Reading this passage it’s easy to wonder if Paul was talking about his own time or ours.  From Paul’s other letters it’s clear that these ‘distressing times’ were the lived reality of many people in first century Palestine; yet this descriptive list also accurately portrays the lived reality of many people today, nearly two millennia later.  So when are the last days?

Part of the problem arises from a difference of understanding about what ‘last days’ actually means.  Today many Christians understand that phrase to mean the literal end of the world: the cessation of natural human life as it has always been and the advent of a new world order in which God himself will come down to earth and rule his people.  They look at the sorry state of our society and believe we must be in the last days of depravity, and that Christ is surely coming to establish his reign.

But that’s not what Paul and the people he was writing to understood the term to mean.  They understood that society could not function when the rule of the day was greed, injustice, and falseness.  Any society badly enough infected with those attributes could not continue to exist, and daily life as they knew it would change radically.  There would be turmoil then a new social structure—still fully human but hopefully more humane—would rise up and replace the old, unjust one.

Indeed, first century Christians did expect Jesus to return in their lifetime, but God has his own timetable to which we are not privy.  In the meantime many societies have experienced many last days, and witnessed the rise of new social structures rising up to replace the old.

Let us not wait for an apocalyptic cataclysm to summon God from on high to come down and fix our society.  If greed, injustice, and falseness are the rule of the day, then we as Christians are called to challenge that rule with love, justice, and truth, demonstrating the power of God with our lives.

Let us pray.  God of the ages, you desire justice and peace for your people.  Inspire us to work for those principles, that we may help establish your kingdom on earth.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 22, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 22:39-46

“Then [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’  Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.  In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”  Luke 22:41-44 (NRSV)

Some of our prayers to God are vague: prayers for peace, wisdom, strength, etc.  But some of our prayers are very specific; we know exactly what we want and that’s precisely what we ask for.  Both types of prayers are welcome to God’s ears.

But just because we prayerfully ask for something doesn’t mean God is going to give us what we ask.

Jesus prayed to his Father that the cup be removed from him; he wanted to be spared the persecution and crucifixion he knew were coming.  In response to his prayer for deliverance, an angel came and gave him strength.  Jesus didn’t ask for strength; strength was what he would need for the events to come, and those were the very events he was praying to avoid!  He was so distressed by this that his sweat became like blood as he prayed all the more earnestly.

God didn’t give his Son what he wanted, but he gave him what he needed.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus never cries out from the cross his sense of abandonment.  Matthew and Mark both show Jesus’ last words to be “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  In Luke, when he has received strength from the angel to face what must occur for the salvation of the world, Jesus’ last words are, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Bring your requests to God in prayer, vague ones if you’re not quite sure what you want to happen, specific ones if you know exactly what you want God to do for you.  But be open to hearing God; he may give you something entirely different from what you ask, because he knows better than we do what we need.  And he will always give us what we need as we live in the grace purchased by his Son’s sacrifice on the cross.

Let us pray.  Omnipotent God, all things are within your power.  Enable us to accept what you give us, that we may boldly proclaim your will with our lives.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 22, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by 1 Samuel 25:23-35

“David said to Abigail, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today!  Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand!’”  1 Samuel 25:32-33 (NRSV)

When we’re searching for guidance from the Lord, we often look for burning bushes or thundering voices from the sky.  God has used such dramatic effects to proclaim his message, but much more often he’s simply worked through ordinary people.

When David was journeying with his soldiers, he passed through the lands of a man named Nabal.  David’s men had protected Nabal’s shepherds in the fields, and now David was requesting some food for his soldiers.  Nabal responded to David’s request with insults, inciting David to march on him with the intent to kill him and every male in his household.  David did not seek the Lord’s guidance in this; he was certain he was justified, and marched out to exact his revenge.

When Nabal’s wife heard what her husband had done, she hurried to prepare food for David and his soldiers and rushed out to meet him.  She never received instructions from the Lord; she heard about the situation, used the good sense God had given her, and acted as she saw fit, even though it meant disobeying her husband and risking her life by confronting David.  But David recognized the hand of God in Abigail’s actions.  David recognized that God was working through this woman to prevent him from making a grave mistake, and David heeded the guidance he received from Abigail, understanding that God had sent her to him for this purpose.

God speaks to us through ordinary people, too.  Even when they don’t realize they’re acting as messengers of God, God has given gifts of good sense, wisdom, and articulation to many people, and uses them to proclaim his will.  Be attuned to the voice of God in all things and in all people; you’ll be surprised by how often you’ll hear him, and by the ways in which he makes himself heard.

Let us pray.  God of the universe, you are with us at all times.  Grant us wise and discerning hearts, that we may recognize your voice in the words of ordinary people.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.