Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A

Inspired by John 9:1-41

“As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’  Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’”  John 9:1-3 (NRSV)

Our culture emphasizes personal responsibility.  When good things come our way, we point to our own hard work or good deeds as the reason why we deserve such fortune.  When calamity befalls us or others, we find reasons to cast blame so that such misery is justified.

But as devoted as we are to the idea of cause and effect, the world doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes good things happen for no discernable reason whatsoever, just as misery sometimes comes to those who have done nothing to deserve it.

In the absence of observable cause, we’re tempted to assign credit or blame to God.  After all, God knows people’s innermost thoughts and feelings, and therefore can bless or curse based on things known only to him.  So we look at people’s good or ill fortune and assume it’s reflective of that person’s overall worthiness.

But things that we so quickly dismiss as curses for sinful behavior are sometimes opportunities for God’s blessings.  God doesn’t make bad things happen in order to make a point about his goodness; God is present with us in all situations, good and bad, and can reveal his grace in the most dire of circumstances.

Don’t worry so much about whether one’s circumstances reflect God’s punishment or reward; look instead for how God’s grace might be revealed in any situation, for his presence is certainly there.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you are with us in good times and in bad.  Help us to recognize your blessings in unlikely places, that we may be comforted by your steadfast presence.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by John 1:1-9

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5 (NRSV)

Imagine you are lost in a deep underground cave.  You don’t know where the exit is.  You don’t know where the walls are.  You don’t know if you’re alone, or if others are there with you.  You can’t see what dangers lurk nearby, or if a step in any direction will plunge you into a lake or into a deep chasm.  The darkness is complete.

Suddenly a tiny flame appears in the blackness before you.  It flickers dully, but it shows you that the path before you is clear.  You can take a step forward, confident in your footing.  You take another, and another.

The small glow surrounds you, illuminating each step as you find the side of the cave and begin to walk along it.  Your light paints the wall, and others who were lost in the darkness make their way toward it.  As each one comes into your light, a flame of their own appears before them, further lessening the gloom.  Soon the small dim circle surrounding you becomes a bright beacon, growing as more and more people are drawn to it.  Before long the cave is bathed in light, and you can see the walls, the exit, and all those who are with you clearly.  Even if a flame occasionally goes out, the light from the others make up for the absence.  A tiny point of light can pierce the darkness, but no amount of darkness can overcome the smallest light.

Christ is the light in our darkness.  Whatever challenges or hardships we might face, his love will shine on us and give us confidence as we move forward.  He will show us that we do not walk alone, and that the more we reflect his love, the more his love will grow.  And there is nothing in this world that has more power than his love.

Let us pray.  God of light, your love illumines our way.  Help us to reflect your love in our lives, that others may see your grace and safety.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Friday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Samuel 15:22-31

“Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.  Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord.  Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.’” 1 Samuel 15:24-26 (NRSV)

It seems so easy to say, “Just obey God and everything will be fine.”  But choosing to obey God means choosing to reject many of the things the world values, and willfully engaging in such rejection brings consequences.  In fact, obeying God is often a guarantee that everything will not be fine: you will insult your friends and neighbors and question or condemn popular practices and social norms.  Sometimes the most effective way to keep our lives peaceful and conflict-free is to reject the commandment of God and instead go along with what the world demands.

Of course, this too has consequences.  God’s commandments are in place to ensure justice and dignity for all, and as fewer and fewer people follow those commandments, justice and dignity become less and less a part of our world.  God’s commandments are eternal and unchanging, while the world has many different ideas about how things should be done.  We can please God by obeying him, but we will never please the world.

If we choose the ways of the world over the ways of God, God will respect that choice.  And we will be left with a fickle and demanding taskmaster who will never be satisfied with our obedience or recognize our worth.  But if we choose to obey God and accept the rejection of the world, then we can rest confident in the knowledge that whatever consequences the world may inflict on us, God’s love is stronger, and he will never forsake or abandon us.

Let us pray.  Lord of wisdom, your ways are not our ways.  Grant us the courage to remain steadfast in your word, that we can proclaim your justice and your love in this chaotic world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Samuel 15:10-21

“Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?  The Lord anointed you king over Israel.’”  1 Samuel 15:17 (NRSV)

Our society idolizes those who are exceptionally beautiful, talented, wealthy, influential, athletic, or intelligent.  Unrealistic ideals are portrayed as achievable or even normal, and most of us are reminded daily of all the ways in which we fall short.  We try desperately to be something we’re not, and when we fail we believe that we don’t matter.

That belief is wrong, because the world does not define us.

Even though we sell ourselves short, God knows who we are, and what we’re capable of.  He sees in us qualities that we disregard or don’t recognize as valuable, and he calls us to do extraordinary things in the lives of other people.  Each and every one of us was created in his image; each and every one of us is capable of reflecting his love, and his love is capable of transforming the world.

Don’t let the world’s unrealistic ideals define you; let the One who loved you enough to fashion every aspect of your being convince you of your worth and your importance.

Let us pray.  Lord of the universe, nothing in all creation escapes your care and attention.  Help us to see ourselves through your eyes, that we may focus our energies on fulfilling your will for our lives.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Jeremiah 2:4-13 

“Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?”  Jeremiah 2:5 (NRSV)

We make choices every day; the choices we make affect our outlook on the world around us, and that outlook helps to shape that world.  If we choose to value greed over kindness, then we see the world as greedy.  Others are impacted by our greed, which proves to them that the world is greedy.  That proof reinforces our choice to value greed, because that is the way of the world, after all.  We become what we value, even when that value is misplaced.

The Lord God created the world out of love.  The resources he provided are plentiful, and he gave statutes that would ensure peace and justice among people.  He blessed us abundantly, and sought to share the beauty of his creation with us.  What did he do to cause us to turn away from him and seek instead those things that devalue and diminish us as individuals and as a people?  What did we find that is better than what he had to offer?

Consider the choices you make.  Do they honor every individual and recognize the precious worth of the earth and all its resources?  Do they recognize your inherent value as a person, regardless of how you look, what you accomplish, or how much you’ve accumulated?  Such things are temporary and superficial; God’s love for you is based on the knowledge that only your Creator can have of you: the knowledge that you are created in his image, and you were worth creating and sharing in his abundance.

Let us pray.  Generous God, you have provided us with every blessing.  Help us to recognize all that you have given us, that we may appreciate those things that are close to your heart.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”  1 Corinthians 10:1-4 (NRSV)

We measure time in a linear manner.  We mark consecutive hours into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, centuries, millennia, etc.  The past is behind us, the future’s before us, and the present is now.  What’s done is done; we can see how the effects impact us today, and take those lessons to heart as we move forward.

But God is not constrained by our carefully measured time.

Christ’s salvific act changed the course of history, but its effects were not limited to first century Palestine and the days and years that followed.  Those who happened to live before Jesus walked the earth and accepted death on the cross were not exempted from his benefits.  When Christ conquered death, he did so for all times and in all places.  Those who lived and died before him benefited just as much as we do today.

All that we see and comprehend was created by God, but God’s power is beyond our vision and comprehension.  Trust in the One who transcends time, and know that no one is beyond his grace.

Let us pray.  Transcendent God, you shelter all of creation in your loving hand.  Open our minds to the sheer vastness of your power, that we may rest in your magnificence.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Monday, Year A

Inspired by 2 John 1-13

“I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father.  But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.”  2 John 4-6 (NRSV)

Much has changed in the millennia since God’s commandments were first received and passed on.  Languages have changed, cultures have changed, societal norms have changed, values have changed, and priorities have changed.

But the word of God has not changed.

From the very beginning, every commandment God has given us has boiled down to the same thing: love one another.  Every culturally conditioned law regarding roles and responsibilities, property, and behavior was given with the goal that everyone be treated justly and compassionately.  While those cultures have changed so that specific laws may no longer apply, God’s objective of justice and compassion has not changed.

As we strive to determine his will for our lives (individual and societal) today, let us remember that first commandment: that we love one another.  Let our every law, every value, every priority reflect that love, and we can be sure that we are walking in his ways.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your steadfast love transcends time and place.  Help us to follow your commandment, that all may know your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent, Year A

Inspired by Romans 5:1-11

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:6-9 (NRSV)

We like to think of ourselves as good people.  We point to the failures and questionable behaviors of others, and compare ourselves favorably to them.  We convince ourselves that we’re better than others, and determine that we are indeed good people deserving of good things.

Yet there are other people in the world who can point to our failures and questionable behaviors, and determine that compared to us, they’re the good people.  And even others can compare themselves to them and come out on top, according to some moral value scale.

But before God, we are all sinners deserving of death and judgment.  Not one of us can stand before God and truthfully claim that we deserve his favor.  We all fall short of his glory.

Yet God responded to our sinfulness by sending his own Son to die for us.  Christ suffered on the cross not because we deserved his sacrifice, but because we needed his grace.

God does not judge us according to some moral value scale; he judges us according to his love.  Not one of us deserves his mercy, but because his goodness exceeds our sinfulness, we have all received it.

Let us pray.  Merciful God, you love us not because of what we do, but because of who you are.  Humble our stubborn hearts, that we may receive your grace as the true gift that it is.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Exodus 16:27-35

“On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none.  The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions?  See!  The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.’  So the people rested on the seventh day.”  Exodus 16:27-30 (NRSV)

Many people refuse to follow God because they find his commandments too restrictive of their freedom.  Why should we pattern our lives according to his will, when we have the ability to make our own choices and determine our own fates?

We do indeed have that freedom, but such an approach fails to recognize that not only does God’s wisdom surpass our own, but he cares more for us that we do for ourselves.

Left to our own devices, we often make choices that are harmful to ourselves and to others.  We work ourselves too hard, put too much pressure on ourselves to perform and succeed, and value people (including ourselves) based on externalities rather than who we are as individuals.

God recognizes us as vulnerable, beautiful, flawed, valued people.  He does not demand as much from us as we demand from ourselves, and his commandments are designed to ensure justice and peace for all.  Follow his commandments, and you will find rest for your body and your soul, and you will experience peace in your life.

Let us pray.  God of peace, you gave us your commandments as a gift.  Open our eyes to your wisdom and care, that we may realize how following your commandments gives us greater freedom than we would allow ourselves.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Ephesians 2:11-22

“So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”  Ephesians 2:17-19 (NRSV)

Imagine a world in which all people are recognized as equal and deserving of dignity.  No one is exploited for another’s gain; no one is abused by another’s power.  No one suffers want in the midst of abundant resources, and everyone is assured justice regardless of race, nationality, or economic circumstance.

Some look at how far our reality is from this ideal and determine that God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care.  But the truth is that God does care, and in his eyes all people are precious and deserving of dignity.  The failure of our world to reflect that reality is not due to his lack of concern, but our refusal to view each other as God views us.

God did not create disposable people, yet we create and maintain systems that treat people as expendable.  We segregate ourselves into affinity groups and objectify those who differ from us.  We justify to ourselves and to each other why some people don’t matter as much as others, and we benefit from the dehumanization of the vulnerable.

In God’s household, all humanity is honored and loved.  The vulnerable are just as important as the powerful, and just as valued.  Rather than work opposite of God’s vision and then blame him for our troubles, let us recognize each other as brothers and sisters, fellow citizens of the world, and see how much better the world can be.

Let us pray.  Loving God, your vision for the world is one of peace and equity.  Help us to work to make your vision a reality, that all may recognize your grace and justice in their lives.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.