Epiphany 4, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Deuteronomy 24:17-25:4

“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.  When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.”  Deuteronomy 24:19-22 (NRSV)

In the business world, profit maximization is everything.  Companies strive to increase their market share—often at the expense of their competitors—and produce more receipts while expending fewer resources.  Efficiency is revered, and waste is to be avoided.  Profit maximization assumes a zero sum game; one person’s gain is another person’s loss.  Anything that does not contribute to the bottom line is eschewed as unimportant at best or wasteful at worst.

While this might be a winning model in a business environment, it is not how God desires the world to function.  God understands that some people will experience more challenges meeting their needs than others.  For a variety of reasons, people will be disadvantaged and in need of assistance.  And God has provided sufficient resources for everyone.  It’s only when we act as though their gain is our loss that resources become scarce.

Helping the poor and disadvantaged is not wasteful; it is obeying the command of God.  It is recognizing that every single one of us has been dependent upon another, is still dependent on God, and that God has abundantly provided sufficient resources for all his creation.  Turn away from zero sum thinking, and embrace the way of God’s abundant generosity instead.

Let us pray.  Generous God, you have provided sufficient resources for all your people.  Cure us of our greed and competitiveness, that none may suffer want on account of our actions.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 4, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Peter 3:8-12

“For ‘Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.’”  1 Peter 3:10-11 (NRSV)

There are some concepts that seem revolutionary, yet have endured through the ages.  Gandhi once said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”  This statement was later adapted to the catchier “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” which is commonly quoted today.  The author of 1 Peter gave that same advice to an early Christian community in the first century, and he did so by using a psalm that had been written hundreds of years earlier.

It’s a simple concept, yet it seems to be one that humanity has been consistently unable to accept.  If we want the world to be a safe and peaceful place, then we must be safe and peaceful people.  Dealing with the problems of the world by engaging in those very practices we abhor will only strengthen those forces we wish to defeat.  Instead we must meet deceit with truth, tyranny with compassion, and chaos with peace.

It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to the status quo and demonstrate a better way.  But God has shown us the way, and he has given us his Son who did exactly those things.  Jesus was committed to truth, compassion, and peace, and when he was crucified for his efforts, he transformed death into life.  God in Christ is the ultimate victor; draw your courage from him, and follow his example in transforming the world into one of safety and peace.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your wisdom has endured through the ages.  Grant us the courage to live according to your principles, that the world may be transformed into one of safety and peace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Luke 1:67-79

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Luke 1:78-79 (NRSV)

Many people in the world wish for peace.  We look at all the violence, exploitation, corruption, and wanton destruction that plague our land, and we long for a life free from all this misery.

When we speak of peace, we usually speak of something that will happen to us.  Peace will come, and we will live in peace.  When we speak of all these miseries, it’s as if we’re speaking of some outside forces that are oppressing us, and we are innocent victims.  But neither peace nor war are independent entities.  We act violently.  We exploit the vulnerable.  We conduct business corruptly.  We wantonly destroy whomever or whatever it is in our interest to destroy.  And if we want peace, then we must act peaceably.

Our just and merciful God has shined his light in our darkness, enabling us to see how our actions lead to death and misery, and he has shown us how to walk in his ways of life and love.  Don’t wait for peace to magically arrive and conquer the evil powers of the world.  Stop serving the world’s evil; walk in the way of peace, and participate in God’s salvation.

Let us pray.  Tender and merciful God, you have shown us the folly of our ways.  Guide us in the way of peace, that we may help bring that peace to our troubled world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by Psalm 27:7-14

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  Psalm 27:13 (NRSV)

Death is a frightening concept for most of us.  We fear our own death, and we fear the death of our loved ones.  But when we are faced with mortality, we take comfort in the knowledge that death brings an end to pain and suffering, and we can look forward to an eternity of being embraced by God’s love and surrounded by his goodness.

Yet God’s love and goodness are not limited to death’s domain.  Even as we live in this fallen and broken world, God’s love and goodness are active and available.  They may be more difficult to see in the midst of the injustice, corruption, violence, and exploitation that comprise the daily reality of far too many people, but they are there.  There are people working for justice; there are people working to bring accountability to those in power; there are those who have dedicated their lives to peace, and there are those working to ensure that the most vulnerable of our populations are treated with dignity and respect.

Death does mark the end of our worldly suffering, and in death we experience only God’s goodness.  But we need not wait until death to experience that goodness.  Not only can we experience it in this life, but by following his ways we can help others to experience it as well.

Let us pray.  God of the living and the dead, your goodness transcends all creation.  Help us to recognize your love in action, that your people may be comforted now.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Monday, Year A

Inspired by Judges 6:11-24

“The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.’  Gideon answered him, ‘But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?  And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?”  But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.’”  Judges 6:12-13 (NRSV)

Many faith communities teach that if you trust the Lord he will be with you, and if God is with you then you will be blessed and nothing bad will happen to you.  As a result of these teachings many faithful Christians fear expressing their doubts.  They believe any tragedy or turmoil in their lives is a result of God’s absence from them, because they’ve not trusted him enough.  This is not true at all.

Gideon was an Israelite who lived during the oppressive rule of Midian.  When the angel of the Lord appeared and assured him that God was with him, Gideon freely expressed his doubts about that.  He insisted on testing not only the truth of the angel’s identity, but the power of the Lord to do what he promised.  Gideon was full of doubt and skepticism, yet God never abandoned him because of it.

God’s presence with us is indeed a blessing, but it does not assure freedom from tragedy and turmoil.  Instead, God’s presence comforts us in our troubles and gives us the strength and courage to stand up in the face of oppression.

The Lord is with you.  Listen for his urgings.  Bring him your doubts and fears, and let him address them.  Tragedy and turmoil are a part of life; let him comfort and strengthen you, so that you can live in the freedom and confidence of his love and grace.

Let us pray.  Ever-present God, you are always with your people.  Give us the courage to express our doubts and fears, that we may face the troubles of the world with confidence and security.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 9:1-4

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”  Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV)

When you spend a long time in darkness, your eyes begin to adjust.  You can make out shapes and learn to identify things and people by their larger features or movements.  Your dim surroundings become familiar and you learn to function and find your way around in them.  Eventually you become so accustomed to the darkness that it seems normal, and you believe you don’t even need the light.  After all, you seem to be doing just fine without it.

And then, when the light does come, it’s painful.  You shield your eyes to block it out.  Everything that was familiar becomes unfamiliar as its true appearance becomes clear.  All you want is for the darkness to return and embrace you in its safety.

But if you let your eyes adjust to the light, you can see beauty where there was only shadow.  You can see there was nothing to fear in the large hulking shapes or the vast empty spaces.  You can see opportunities that had been hidden, and you can see that the darkness did not keep you safe; it kept you isolated.

God sends his light into the world to show us his ways.  Drink in the beauty of his creation, recognize the people he sent to walk with us with all their fine details, and wonder at the brilliance of his love.

Let us pray.  God of light, your love illuminates the world.  Open our eyes to the beauty of your ways, that we may reflect them and help diminish the darkness that still clings in places.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Luke 5:27-32

“The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’  Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”  Luke 5:30-32 (NRSV)

Living in accordance with your faith is an important aspect of Christianity.  We want to make sure our actions match our professed beliefs, that the things we spend our time and money on reflect our religious values.  We take care that we don’t send the wrong message about what we believe by indulging in activities that contradict our devotion to God.

But what are those beliefs and values?  What does true devotion to God look like?

Sometimes we get so caught up in God’s holiness that we forget about his love.  We’re so focused on protecting his reputation that we forget about his mercy.  And we’re so concerned about sending the wrong message by associating with anything or anyone that could be considered sinful that we end up sending the wrong message about his grace and compassion instead.

God’s holiness cannot be marred by the actions of people, and he isn’t nearly as worried about his reputation as we are.  God became a human being and met us on our own, sinful level.  He didn’t surround himself with people who already knew God, but with those who needed to know God.  He wasn’t afraid of associating with them; he made it possible for them to associate with him.  And as his followers, we are called to do the same.  Don’t worry about how others view you; concern yourself instead with bringing the message of hope to those who need to hear it.

Let us pray.  Holy God, you humbled yourself in order to bridge the divide between us.  Enable us to reflect your generosity in our own actions, that your grace will be proclaimed to those most in need of it.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Galatians 2:1-10

“[F]or he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles.”  Galatians 2:8 (NRSV)

To effectively proclaim the risen Christ to first century Palestinian Jews required a certain combination of factors.  To effectively proclaim the risen Christ to first century non-Jews required an entirely different combination of factors.  The world today is far more complex in its demographics, and it takes a variety of approaches and skill sets to proclaim the grace of the risen Christ to all who need to hear it.

God works through different people in different ways.  Features that might make a person abhorrent to one group would help them gain the trust of another.  People respond differently to things like speech patterns, vocabulary choices, stylistic expression, even gender and personal experiences.  The ways and means through which God’s message can be proclaimed are beyond measure, but it’s the same God who is proclaimed.

Don’t judge another messenger of Christ because you don’t connect with their appearance or approach; they’re probably called to bring God’s message to people who would reject you for the same reasons you reject them.  We’re all one in Christ, and the One who created us in all our diversity can bring us together in unity without demanding unnatural uniformity.

Let us pray.  Creator God, you created the world with wondrous diversity among your people.  Help us to recognize that your grace transcends cultures, that we may treat all your people as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Galatians 1:11-24

“Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’” Galatians 1:21-23 (NRSV)

Sometimes we are so certain of our righteousness.  We are confident that we understand what God approves of and what God rejects, and we proclaim and enforce that knowledge with zeal.

And sometimes we are wrong.

Paul was a faithful Pharisee, dedicated to keeping the name of God free from blasphemous claims, and those who followed Jesus were a threat to everything he believed in.  He became known for his zealous persecution of Christians, which he did only because he was protecting the faith that meant so much to him.  But he was so blinded by his passion for his faith that he lost sight of the God who established and defined that faith, and he found himself actively working against the God he claimed to serve.

God opened his eyes, and Paul was able to recognize his folly.  It took a great deal of strength and humility to suddenly commit himself to the teachings he’d worked so hard to condemn and destroy, but he realized that if he truly did serve God then he had to abandon his own understanding of God.

Worship the God you serve, not the service you believe God requires.  Recognize that he is not locked in history, but is actively engaged in our current reality.  Be open to his creativity, and remember that Christ came not to condemn the world, but to save it.

Let us pray.  Living God, you work in the lives of your people in new and creative ways.  Grant us the humility to recognize your freedom, that our service will support your saving work in the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 2, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Matthew 9:14-17

“Then the disciples of John came to [Jesus], saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’”  Matthew 9:14 (NRSV)

Ever since Jesus walked the earth there have been those who have questioned or criticized those who followed him because of their behavior.  ‘Respectable religious devotion’ has a particular look, and those who do not conform to it are accused of heresy, irreverence, or false teachings.

Jesus came to abolish all those things.  There are no barriers between us and God made flesh.  We need not fear his rejection because we pray or worship incorrectly.  He will not abandon us because we fail to engage in the proper pious rituals.  The incarnate God broke into human history to meet us where we are, and the only response he requires from us is a genuine one.

Does fasting help you feel closer to the One who gave all for fallen humanity?  Then fast boldly.  Does feasting help you celebrate the great gift of grace he has given you?  Then feast boldly.  Pray to God with whatever words or emotions you have, be they joyous, angry, thankful, lamenting, or incomprehensible, and God will hear you.  God in Christ has already offered himself for you as you are; receive his grace and walk with him as you are.  However you choose to live or behave, if your actions glorify him and the love and mercy he stands for, you’re doing nothing wrong.

Let us pray.  God of reconciliation, you find us acceptable because of your love.  Help us to honor you with our lives, that the variety of our responses will reflect the depth of your grace and mercy.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.