Advent 1, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Matthew 24:1-22

“As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.  Then he asked him, ‘You see all these, do you not?  Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’”  Matthew 24:1-2 (NRSV)

We look around at all the familiar monuments to our faith and culture, and we have difficulty imagining things could be any other way.  We have our religious buildings, our government landmarks, and countless statues proclaiming our national heritage.  We take our identity from these things, perhaps more than we realize.

But all these things were built from corruptible materials by human hands, and all these things will some day disintegrate and disappear.  What will happen to our identity then?

These familiar monuments can tell us something about where we came from and how our society understands itself, but they need not define us.  Our identity comes from the Lord God who created us, redeems us, and sustains us.  Our identity comes from the God of all creation who lovingly and intentionally fashioned us in his own image and calls us his beloved children.  Our identity comes from the One who was before all things and who will remain when all things come to their end.

Enjoy and appreciate those monuments that speak to your history or your present, but know that you were built of stronger stuff, and even if all those monuments were to be destroyed tomorrow, you would still be known and loved by the One who is everlasting.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, you gave us the ability to create great monuments.  Help us to recognize these monuments only point to the Creator of all, that we may put our faith in the One who will never fail.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 1, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Genesis 6:1-10

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  Genesis 6:5-6 (NRSV)

In the beginning when God formed the heavens and the earth, he took care to create a beautiful world, filled with all the resources necessary for survival as well as well as great beauty to delight human senses.  Once he’d completed everything else, God created humankind to care for the rest of creation and enjoy all the good things God had made.  He created humanity in his own image, blessed with everything we needed in order to walk with God.  He did this not to fill any need or lack of his own, but because he chose to share his great love with us.

And because God chose to share his love with us, he also chose to make himself vulnerable to us.  And we exploited that vulnerability, abused his good creation and all the good gifts he’d given us, and chose to go our own way.

And that hurt God deeply.

God is not some absent creator who got things started and then left us to our own devices.  Nor is he some cold, unfeeling deity watching us passionlessly from far away.  God cares deeply for each and every one of us, and when we incline our hearts to evil and reject the potential he gave us for great love and compassion, he is deeply grieved.  The needless suffering we inflict upon ourselves and others wounds him, because he didn’t create us for suffering.

Consider the One in whose image you were created.  Consider why he created you.  And consider the great potential he gave to you.  Incline you heart toward him, enjoy sharing the love he chose to share, and help stop the needless suffering that so wounds our God and so many of our brothers and sisters.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you created us to be in relationship with you and with your whole creation.  Incline our hearts toward you, that we may come closer to reaching the great potential you gave to us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 1, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by James 4:1-10

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.”  James 4:3 (NRSV)

God wants good things for us, right?  So why doesn’t he answer our prayers the way we want him to?  Why doesn’t he give us the bigger paycheck and greater leisure time?  Why doesn’t he give us more power and respect in the world?  What does God really have against pleasure and happiness, anyway?

God has nothing against pleasure and happiness; he created many good things in the world specifically so we could enjoy and appreciate them.  But he also recognizes that in pursuit of our own pleasure and happiness, we often deprive others of necessities, either intentionally or through apathy and willful blindness to the consequences of our actions.  And while God does indeed want us to enjoy good things, he’s not going answer our prayers for pleasure at the expense of others.

Why do you want that bigger paycheck?  Are you unable to meet your own basic needs?  Then by all means pray and trust that God will hear your prayer.  But if God is not answering your prayer the way that you want him to, then consider the possibility that you may have confused needs with wants.  Those prayers are still useful, because God can use that opportunity to open your eyes to the needs of others in the world.  And though you may not receive what you asked for, you may find yourself receiving something much more valuable: the ability to be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you know our needs better than we do.  Grant us humility and openness to your will, that we may use the resources you have given us to demonstrate your love to the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 1:1-4

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”  Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

In the ongoing debates between the secular and the religious, the argument often seems to be presented as a false choice between having faith and employing one’s intellect.  Some believe that in order to embrace religion and accept religious truths, one must abandon all logic and reasoning, and simply live by faith.  At the other extreme, some believe that faith cannot survive in an environment that acknowledges the validity of discoveries made by logic and scientific exploration.

But one need not choose between faith and reason.

The author of Luke’s gospel was most likely a Gentile who attended a church that had been evangelized by the apostle Paul.  The importance of faith was not overlooked in his community.  Yet despite the fact that he already had faith, Luke still studied the ‘orderly account of events’ that many had already set down, and endeavored to investigate the matter himself in a very rational and systematic manner.  Ultimately he wrote an orderly account himself, for the express purpose that Theopholilus (literally ‘God-lover’) might know the truth concerning his faith.

Luke employed intellect in the service of faith.  The two were complimentary.  Only by fully understanding (an intellectual pursuit) the events that had occurred could his faith be strengthened.

People of faith need not fear scientific reasoning.  Faith and intellect are not only capable of complimenting each other, they’re specifically designed to do so.  After all, the Lord our God gave us both.

Let us pray.  Architect of all creation, you designed us to be rational beings who serve you in faith.  Grant us the ability to hold both in tension, that we may be open to discovering your greatness in ways we’ve yet to imagine.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Isaiah 33:17-22

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.”  Isaiah 33:22 (NRSV)

We like to think we’ve got complete control over our lives.  We’re masters of our own destinies, determiners of our own fate.  We answer to no one but ourselves, determine our own values and guiding principles, and trust in our own wisdom and abilities to meet all our needs and wants.

And then something goes wrong, and we blame a vengeful or uncaring God for our troubles.

We cannot have it both ways.  Either we’re completely responsible for our own lives, or we acknowledge God as our judge, ruler, and king.

If we choose to reject God’s sovereignty over us, then we must willingly accept the consequences of not only our own choices, but the consequences of everyone else’s choices, as well.  If God has no authority over the lives of the people of the world, then differing human ideas of justice and behavior all have equal validity.  Our expectations of agency, justice, and human worth are limited by human imagination and frailty, and when we suffer because of those limits, we have no one to appeal to, no hope for our salvation beyond what we ourselves can accomplish.

But if we acknowledge God as our judge, ruler, and king, then we can recognize the highest possibilities of human potential.  We’ll still have to face the consequences of our own and others’ actions, but we can work to make those consequences positive and life-giving by following God’s principles of love, mercy, and justice.  And when we suffer cruelty or injustice because of others, we can trust that God’s compassion and mercy will triumph.  When we have exhausted all our own resources, the Lord of the universe and Creator of all things will be there to do what we cannot, save us from our trials, and embrace us with his eternal love.

Let us pray.  Lord of all, you desire justice and dignity for all your people.  Enable us to recognize you as our judge, ruler, and king, that we may come closer to our ultimate potential and live in confident expectation of your salvation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Jeremiah 46:18-28

“But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, and do not be dismayed, O Israel; for I am going to save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity.  Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and no one shall make him afraid.”  Jeremiah 46:27 (NRSV)

As we live out our lives in this sinful and fallen world, we will experience periods of suffering.  They may be the result of our own poor choices, they may be the consequences of others’ thoughtless or intentional actions, or they may be without discernable cause.  In any case, most of us are virtually guaranteed periods of suffering, and being a faithful Christian does not exempt us from this reality.

But we who follow Christ and know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through him can be confident that no matter how far we may feel from his presence, our God will never forsake us.  Whatever our circumstances on earth, God is not only aware of them, he is experiencing them with us, giving us the strength we need to just breathe that next breath, take that next step, and endure for just one more day.  For God created us for more than this, and even now he is working to bring you through these difficult times.  He created you to know peace and love, and to live without fear.  He is calling his followers to care for his good creation and bring healing to the world, and he has the power to make all things new.

Let us pray.  God of salvation, you are with your people at all times and in all places.  Help us to be aware of your presence in our deepest need and loneliness, that we may be comforted and strengthened by your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King Sunday, Year C

Inspired by Colossians 1:11-20

“For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  Colossians 1:19-20 (NRSV)

Is God a wrathful God, demanding a blood sacrifice for our sin?  Is his love for us demonstrated by the coldness and callousness of a Father sending his own and only Son to his death?

Many Christians take exactly that view, and while they respond in gratitude to such loving sacrifice, their faith is tempered by the understanding that if God could abandon his own Son on the cross, he’s more than willing to abandon them to their own sin and punishment if they don’t please him.  While the Father/Son language is biblical and accurate, it’s also incomplete.

The nature of the Triune God is relational, which is why we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But while all three are distinct persons, they are also all three fully God.  When the Father sent his Son to the cross, it wasn’t one being sending another to experience something alone; it was God sending himself to suffer and die for our sake.  It wasn’t some innocent victim of an abusive Father being forced into crucifixion, it was God himself willingly taking the penalty for our sin upon himself for all time, so we would never have to.  And when he died, he also defeated death and raised us all to new life, once and for all.

It wasn’t a wrathful God who tortured and murdered Jesus; it was sinful humanity.  But God dwelt fully in Christ, and used that event not to punish humanity for our violence and sinfulness, but to free us from it.  He met our violence with love, substituted punishment with grace, and turned death into life.  We need never fear his wrath; we are invited to experience the depth of his love.

Let us pray.  Incarnate God, you took on our flesh and became truly human.  Open our eyes to the freedom you have given us, that we may worship you without fear or reservation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 18:15-17

“But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”  Luke 18:16-17 (NRSV)

There are many words we use to describe children: innocent, unquestioning, pliable.  These are characteristics that don’t last long into adulthood, and once gone can never be regained.  Nor should they be; functioning and well-adjusted adults need to be wise, questioning, and willing to take a stand.  And God does not require us to disregard our experience or abandon the use of our faculties in order to enter into his kingdom.

What he does require is that we share our responsibilities with him and trust him to do what we cannot.  Another aspect of healthy childhood is the knowledge and understanding that we can’t do many things ourselves; we rely on others to take care of us and see that we have what we need.  We know we haven’t earned good things with our works, but we expect to receive them anyway, because we know we are loved by the adults around us.  That is how God wants us to receive the kingdom.  Expectantly, knowing that we’ve not earned it, but trusting that God wants to give it to us out of his boundless love for us.  If we believe that the kingdom is our rightful due because of what we’ve accomplished, then it’s not the kingdom of God that we seek.

Even if your childhood wasn’t as idyllic as it should or could have been, the kingdom of God is still for you, perhaps especially for you.  God’s love will not fail, and his promises can be trusted.  Put your burdens on him, and he will help you carry them.  God will honor your experience and your questions, and he will receive you with joy and thanksgiving.

Let us pray.  Faithful God, you offer us your kingdom out of your endless love and compassion.  Help us to trust in your goodness, that we may lay our burdens on you and receive your kingdom expectantly.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 46

“Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.  ‘Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  Psalm 46:8-11 (NRSV)

We like to think of God as a gentle God, bringer of peace and tranquility.  We generally choose not to think of him as bringing desolation to the earth, or performing acts of violence.  But the truth is that there are many in the world who benefit from chaos and profit from war, and they are not going to simply step aside in favor of God’s vision of peace.

Those who create chaos are powerful, but God’s power is greater than theirs.  Those who profit from war are mighty, but God’s might is greater than theirs.  God reserves his violence for the instruments of war, and he uses his power and might to ensure safety and peace for all his people.

We need not fear the desolations God has brought to the earth; he makes desolate only those things that injure his people.  We can take comfort in knowing that he is our refuge and our strength, capable of overcoming the chaos and violence of the world.  He uses his power to establish the peace and tranquility for which we long, and he rules us with gentleness and compassion.

Let us pray.  Sovereign Lord, you overcome chaos with tranquility and war with peace.  Enable us to put our hope in you, that your power and strength may be sources of comfort.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Chronicles 18:12-22

“The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.’  But Micaiah said, ‘As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.’”  2 Chronicles 18:12-13 (NRSV)

There can be a great deal of pressure to follow the crowd.  Those with authority make a show of seeking input from others before they make a decision, but it’s clear what they want to hear.  Those who wish to find favor with powerful people understand this, and abandon the truth for sycophantic advice.  The powerful reward those who feed their egos and punish those who point out flaws in their desired courses of action.  The problem is not with the plan, they reason, but with those who advise against it.

Micaiah was the only prophet in all Israel who spoke the word of the Lord.  The other four hundred prophets all told the king what he wanted to hear, and Micaiah was instructed to do the same.  Yet despite the threat to his own health and well being—he was ultimately put in prison for his words—he held fast to the true prophecy given by God.  The king disregarded his words and instead followed the advice of those who told him only what he wanted to hear, and met his own destruction.

We may ignore the truth in favor of our own desires and ideals, but reality does not change because we ignore it.  No matter how many people we can convince to tell us what we want to hear, events will still unfold as truth dictates.  Whether you are one of the powerful trying to decide on a course of action or someone asked to support that decision, seek the counsel of the Lord.  Be open to hearing his truth, and adjust your actions accordingly.

Let us pray.  Lord of power and might, you created the universe and remain active in the lives of your people.  Grant us the wisdom and the courage to proclaim your truth, that we may work to make your will a reality.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.