Transfiguration, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Hebrews 11:23-28

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”  Hebrews 11:24-25 (NRSV)

Many of us were born into a certain level of privilege.  We happen to belong to the dominant race of our society, or our parents raised us in financially stable homes where educational opportunities abounded and achievement and prosperity were expected.  We assumed positions of power, acknowledging the inequalities of the system but absolving ourselves of responsibility because we didn’t create it.

But whether we created it or not, acceptance of our positions in such a system perpetuates that system, and actively subjects others to injustice and exploitation.  Even if we merely participate in the cultural norms we’ve inherited, we are guilty of oppression.

It takes much courage to eschew our inherited privilege and speak out against the status quo in order to give voice to those who have long been silenced.  It takes much strength and humility to join and identify ourselves with the exploited and abused.  Yet God can give us the strength, the humility, and the courage to do all that and more.  God calls us to recognize the most vulnerable in our societies as his beloved children and our brothers and sisters, and to use whatever privileges we’ve inherited or earned to ensure the dignity and wellbeing of all people.

Have faith that the One who created you does not value you according to your privilege or status, but according to his gracious love.  Trust in him as you not only recognize the inequalities inherent in the systems we’ve inherited, but as you eschew the benefits of that system for the sake of those it exploits.

Let us pray.  God of courage, you are the source of our strength.  Embolden us to reject the privileges of an unjust system, that we may help bring freedom to the oppressed.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Exodus 6:2-9

“‘I will take you as my people, and I will be your God.  You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.  I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession, I am the Lord.’  Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”  Exodus 6:7-9 (NRSV)

When hopelessness and despair define our lives, it’s nearly impossible to imagine things can ever get better.  Even if someone comes along and promises us freedom and a new life, our own experiences of disappointment prevent us from believing such outrageous claims.  We know what we’ve lived, and when we’ve only lived in misery and fear, any other way of living is merely wishful thinking.

But God is not limited by our experiences.  God has not been beaten down by the cruelty and exploitation that has characterized too many human lives.  God has the power to do what we believe is impossible, and God has the vision to imagine what we couldn’t begin to dream.

Whatever your burdens may be, God can overcome them.  However heavy your chains are, God can break them.  However trapped you may feel, God can free you.  Trust in his promises; in God you have freedom and dignity, and he will never forsake you.

Let us pray.  Savior God, you call us to your light and your love.  Give us hope in your promises, that we may overcome the cruelty of our oppressors.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

 

Epiphany 7, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Proverbs 3:27-35

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”  Proverbs 3:27 (NRSV)

Our daily routines have become so familiar to us that we spend much of our time on autopilot, not really engaging in our environment.  We don’t think about what we’re doing or saying, or how we’re interacting with those around us.  We usually don’t act cruelly, but we don’t notice or acknowledge kindnesses, either.  We know our own efforts are merely expected, and we take others for granted, as well.

How nice would it be if we were acknowledged for all the little things we do for others?  How nice would it be if we acknowledged all the little things others do for us?

We may not have the power to overthrow the oppressive and exploitative regimes of the world, but we do have the power to improve the lives of those around us.  We can see those who work so hard behind the scenes to make things run smoothly.  We can recognize the efforts put into tedious but necessary tasks, and we can acknowledge how much easier our lives are because of the toil of others.

Each and every one of us has the power to do good for those around us.  Wake up to how many people are within your sphere of activity, and bless them with your gratitude and appreciation.

Let us pray.  Knowing God, you see how hard your people toil.  Help us to recognize the efforts of others, that none may believe they labor in vain.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 7, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by Hebrews 12:14-16

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Hebrews 12:14 (NRSV)

If you ask people who have heard of the God that Christians worship but are not Christians themselves, what would they tell you about him?  Would they tell you he is compassionate and merciful, devoted to justice for all people, and abounding in steadfast love?  More likely they would describe a God who is wrathful and judgmental, cruel and capricious, and who has no care for or understanding of the struggles real people face.

God calls his faithful followers to reveal him to the world, and people come to know God by the way his followers behave.  God is love, and his nature is compassionate and merciful.  When his followers proclaim judgment and wrath and demand strict behavioral codes based on ancient societal norms, then that’s how people who do not yet know God will see him.  And that means they will not see God, because that’s not who God is.

Remember that God is just and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and proclaim that God in your behavior towards all others.  God wishes everyone to know him; represent him accurately, and help others to experience his grace.

Let us pray.  God of compassion and mercy, you call us to proclaim your will to the world.  Help us to accurately represent your nature, that we may not be a stumbling block to others’ salvation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 7, Monday, Year A

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  Romans 12:15 (NRSV)

Faithfulness to Christ is no guarantee of an easy life.  Indeed, each of us will experience the full range of human emotions throughout our lifetimes.  And every single one of those emotions is honored by God.

There is room in a faithful life for grief.  There is room in a faithful life for sorrow.  Our periods of happiness and gratitude will be balanced by periods of sadness and anger.  We will feel doubt as well as certainty.  We will feel all these things, and we will be present with others as they feel them.

It might be tempting to rush through the negative feelings to a more positive outlook, but it’s important to recognize and honor our true state of being.  Grief will not heal if it’s ignored; a period of mourning is not only helpful but necessary.  Own what you feel; let yourself feel it.  And let others fully experience their emotions.  Just as you would not try to sadden someone who is rejoicing, do not try to cheer up someone who is weeping.  Just sit with them where they are, and be present.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  God created us with the capacity to feel all these things, and he is not repelled by a single human emotion.

Let us pray.  Incarnate God, you took on human flesh and lived as one of us.  Help us to remember that Jesus wept and experienced betrayal, that we might give ourselves permission to embrace the whole human experience as acceptable to you.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Inspired by Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  Leviticus 19:1-2 (NRSV)

The nineteenth chapter of Leviticus is full of statutes and commandments for the people of Israel to obey, most of them detailing how to practice justice and compassion among themselves.  Most people understand this list as describing what the people must do in order to be holy.

The list in the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus certainly outlines God’s expectations of his people, but their holiness is not at stake.  The chapter begins with God telling Moses to tell the people that they shall be holy because God himself is holy. Their holiness comes first; it’s already a given, because God’s holiness is a given.  The statutes and commandments merely describe what God’s holiness looks like in a human community.

We can fail to live up to God’s expectations of us, but that doesn’t result in God’s abandonment.  ‘Holy’ means ‘dedicated to God.’  Even when we disappoint him, we are still dedicated to him.  And God is dedicated to justice, compassion, mercy, peace, and love.

God has already chosen you, before you’ve done anything to deserve it.  Practice justice, compassion, mercy, peace, and love in your life, and you will reflect God’s holiness in the world.

Let us pray.  Holy God, you have chosen us to reflect your holiness in the world.  Enable us to obey your statutes, that all may understand your gracious character.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 7, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Matthew 7:1-12

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”  Matthew 7:1-3 (NRSV)

There is much sin and brokenness in the world.  As Christians we’re called to proclaim the forgiveness of sin and the healing grace of Christ.  Instead, too many of us believe it our duty to proclaim God’s judgment and threaten his wrath against those who refuse to acknowledge and repent of their sins to our satisfaction.

Yet we ourselves are recipients of God’s forgiveness and grace.  And that’s not a one-time event.  Each of us must die to sin daily, and live in a continual state of renewal.  That means we’re continually sinning and receiving forgiveness.  When Jesus spoke these words to his followers, note that he assumed his hearers had logs in their own eye to be removed.  He knew that even those who follow him faithfully are still fallen, broken people in continual need of his forgiveness.  And his response to our continual state of sin is to extend his own eternal grace.

We do not have exclusive rights to that grace, and Jesus never appointed us judge and jury over our fellow human beings.  How would you fare if the judgment and wrath you determine for others applied to your own actions?  Receive the acceptance and forgiveness of Christ, and help others understand that his forgiveness and healing extends to them, as well.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you’re more accepting of our shortcomings than we are.  Help us to follow your gracious example, that those who are hurting may know your mercy.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 7, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Leviticus 6:1-7

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: When any of you sin and commit a trespass against the Lord by deceiving a neighbor in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbor, or have found something lost and lied about it—if you swear falsely regarding any of the various things that one may do and sin thereby…You shall pay it to its owner when you realize your guilt.  And you shall bring to the priest, as your guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish, from the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering.”  Leviticus 6:1-3, 5b-6 (NRSV)

In our efforts to protect and ensure the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, we sometimes treat others less than honestly.  We neglect the needs of others as we advocate for the needs of our own.  We interpret situations in ways that will benefit ourselves, our family, and our friends even when those interpretations deny rights and benefits to others.  And then we go to church and seek God’s blessings, believing ourselves righteous before him because we’ve done him no wrong.

Whatever we do against another person we do against God.

There is no separation between how we treat others and how we worship God.  God does not restrict himself to the church or church functions and ignore what goes on in our neighborhoods, places of business, and homes.  He is concerned for the wellbeing of all people, and he expects his followers to treat with kindness and seek justice for all people, not just the select few who happen to be within our own small circles.

Worship the Lord your God by advocating for all people as energetically as you advocate for yourself and your loved ones.  Recognize that a sin against a stranger is a sin against God, and an act of love toward a stranger is an act of love toward God.

Let us pray.  Sovereign God, your love and compassion extend to all people.  Inspire us to worship you through our treatment of others, that all may experience your graciousness.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 7, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 10:23:11-1

“For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks?”  1 Corinthians 10:29b-30 (NRSV)

There are many things that provide pleasure and bring us joy in this world, and God is the source of all of them.  However every good thing, when taken to extremes, can become a snare for us.  Delight in food can become gluttony.  Appreciation for fine craftsmanship and works of art can become greed for material objects.  Satisfaction in a job well done can become prideful arrogance.  Love can become obsession.

As individuals, we each have our own struggles and temptations, and we know what things we must avoid in order to keep our focus on God.  Yet we also have a tendency to assume that everyone else is like us, and that our temptations are their temptations.  We assume that those things which threaten to ensnare us threaten to ensnare everyone, and we judge others for enjoying those things that would be detrimental for us.

God gave us liberty in Christ, and that liberty frees us from works of the law.  That liberty frees us to worship God in the fullness of our own being and to recognize his grace in every aspect of our own lives.  We cannot restrict another’s liberty because of our own weaknesses anymore than our own liberty can be restricted by the judgment of another person.

Be thankful for all the things that bring you joy and pleasure in your life, avoid those things which bring you temptation, and be mindful that others may have different blessings and struggles than you.  For such is the liberty of Christ.

Let us pray.  God of liberty, your people are many and diverse.  Help us to accept each other’s differences, that we may each be faithful according to the gifts you have given us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 6, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Matthew 19:1-12

“Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’… [Jesus answered,] ‘[W]hat God has joined together, let no one separate.’  They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’”  Matthew 19:3, 6b-7 (NRSV)

People look to the bible for advice and guidance for all sorts of things.  Yet we often already know what answers we want to find, and we carefully interpret what is there to support our own ideas.  We take instances that catered to the reality of a specific cultural context and interpret it as a divine commandment applicable to all times and all places.

Moses never commanded the Israelite men to issue certificates of dismissal and divorce their wives.  He outlined the circumstances under which divorce might be permissible and detailed the protections available for both parties, particularly the women who had no legal rights in that society.  The fact that the bible acknowledges that cultural reality does not mean we must endeavor to make it our own, and permission to do something is certainly not a commandment which must be obeyed.

The bible includes narratives that span more than a thousand years across multiple cultures and contexts.  It includes many details, many of which contradict each other, and therefore we cannot expect to find specific advice for modern situations hidden within these ancient texts.  However the bible as a whole describes God’s interaction with his people, and throughout we see a God who is concerned with love, mercy, generosity, and justice.  When seeking advice for a specific issue, consider the course of action that best embodies these qualities, and you will be following the way of the Lord.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your love spans the ages.  Enable us to emulate your merciful ways, that your justice and peace may reign on the earth.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.