Epiphany 4, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 13:1-5

“The LORD your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast.” Deuteronomy 13:4 (NRSV)

There is so much competing for our attention. Every day we’re bombarded with options for entertainment, fashion, commerce, success, popularity, and leisure activities, not to mention the ordinary concerns of family, work, chores, and errands, to name just a few. Some of these concerns are important; some aren’t as important as we make them out to be, and some aren’t important at all.

Yet all of them have the potential to be our god, the object of our utmost attention and even worship. But none of them are worthy of that level of attention, because there is only one God.

When we allow a lesser concern take the place of God in our lives, we focus on it to the exclusion of everything else, even those important things that do merit some attention of their own. But when we keep God as God in our lives, following and serving him alone, then we’ll also be attending to the other important matters in our lives, because God wants us to have strong, healthy family relationships, and contribute constructively to society, and any number of other things. And those things that we do end up losing or letting go of when we focus on God alone? We find that those are the things that weren’t actually all that important anyway, and we didn’t really need to be giving them our attention in the first place.

Let us pray. Sovereign Lord, you alone are God. Help us to keep our focus on you, that we may give our attention to those things that are pleasing to you, and not to those things that would lead us astray. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 4, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 12:28-32

“Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 12:28 (NRSV)

During most congregational meetings, when the subject of youth ministry comes up, someone will advocate for the younger members of the congregation with the words, “These kids are the future of our church!” In one sense that’s (hopefully) true, yet it also understates the importance of the kids’ future responsibilities, and ignores the fact that, since they’re here now, they’re also the church’s present.

Our children are not only the future of the church, but the future of the world. As the current adults age and die, the younger generation will take over. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it always will be. In the meantime, they’re here now, watching us, learning from us. What are we teaching them? How are we teaching them? Are they seeing us live according to our values? Probably. But do our lived values match our stated values? In other words, when we say it’s important to follow God, do our children see us actually following God?

The commands of the Lord are not capricious demands given by an egomaniacal taskmaster. The Lord is a just and loving God, who has given us his Word in order that we may know how to live peacefully and prosperously as a society. Failure to obey that Word brings calamity and strife of our own making. It is up to us to teach our children not only with our words but with our actions how best to live in the society that they will inherit and shape. Are we teaching them to do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord so that it will go well for them, or are we teaching them to do what is right in their own eyes, and hoping it all works out?

Let us pray. Just God, you have given us your commands that it may go well with us. Help us to teach our children your ways, that it may go well with them, too, as you desire. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 4, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 111

“Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.” Psalm 111:2-3 (NRSV)

The world is a marvelous place, full of wonder and mystery. From the time of the ancients through today, both scientists and artists have studied the earth, seeking to understand and describe it: what it is, how it works, what it means. Such studies are an honor to the Lord, who is known in part through his creation. By better comprehending the creation, we can better comprehend the Creator.

The danger comes when we refuse to acknowledge that the creation indeed has a Creator. The insult to God comes when we value the fact that we have attained this knowledge over the knowledge itself, and what wisdom it can impart to us.

God has blessed us with inquisitive minds and creative expression. Delighting in the works of the Lord by seeking to understand his creation or by artistically communicating what we observe is a form of evangelism, because it proclaims some aspect of the God of all. It is only when we seek to glorify ourselves that science and art become offensive to the Lord.

Let us pray. Majestic Lord, you have revealed aspects of yourself through your wondrous creation. Enable us to seek you in everything around us, that we may recognize your works and your loving providence. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 46

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” Psalm 46:1-3 (NRSV)

The world can be a frightening place. Cultural norms change, calling into question all of our old assumptions. Human sinfulness causes war and poverty, and natural disasters bring death and destruction. It’s a real challenge to remain hopeful and strong in the face of such turmoil.

Yet God’s love is never changing, and cannot be defeated. Looking to God can give us the strength and the hope we need to counter all the fear and pain in the world. God’s love is active in all times and in all places, and continues to apply even as cultures shift and change. God’s love encourages those who fight for justice and who struggle to change the systems that exploit the poor to serve the rich. God’s love empowers those who work to rebuild after a natural disaster, and the kindness shown by one human being to another in any circumstance is the love of God working in the world.

Even as the world changes, God proves that he is not bound by the world, and his steadfast love endures forever.

Let us pray. Enduring God, you have seen the world change beyond recognition, and it continues to change still. Show us your steadfast love, that we may reflect your hope to all who struggle. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 5:33-42

“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39a (NRSV)

Humility is a virtue praised by many Christians, but practiced by few. We are so certain of what we know to be true about God and his will that we often react with hostility towards someone who has a different interpretation than we do. We take so seriously the command to not be taken in by false teachers that we attack anyone who teaches differently than we do. Just like the Pharisees did.

The Pharisees were faithful men, trying to protect Judaism from the hostile environment in which it found itself. According to their understanding, God would never reveal himself through a poor itinerant preacher who was executed as a criminal. Anyone who taught otherwise didn’t understand God properly, and needed to be put down before they could cause fatal misunderstanding among the faithful.

But God was not limited by the Pharisees’ understanding, and he did indeed reveal himself through a poor itinerant preacher who was executed as a criminal. Neither is God limited by our understanding, and he still continues to reveal himself in surprising ways. Of course we are to carefully consider any new interpretation in order to guard against being taken in by false teachings, but we are to do so with humility, understanding that just because we never thought of God in a certain way before doesn’t mean that such thoughts are necessarily wrong. After all, the law and the prophets had been around for centuries or millennia, understood in a certain way. Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets in a way no one expected or had anticipated, yet it was no less God’s work for all its unexpectedness. Only those with humility were able to recognize it.

Let us pray. God of wisdom, your ways are unknowable. Grant us the humility to be open to you, that we may not find ourselves fighting against you in order to defend our own ideas. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

“Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches…In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.” 1 Corinthians 7:17b, 24 (NRSV)

Encountering the risen Christ can utterly transform our lives. Our outlook, our priorities, everything about us is affected; nothing about us remains untouched or off-limits to God once we begin to live according to our faith.

At the same time, however, we never cease to be who we are, who God created us to be. Each of us was born with specific gifts, abilities, and weaknesses, and living a life of faith does not mean we give those up in order to try to be something we’re not. Rather, living our lives in obedience to Christ empowers us to fully be the people God created us to be, whereas living apart from Christ means we’re only a shadow of what we could be.

Whoever you are, whatever you’re doing when God calls you, God wants you to continue using those gifts as you follow him. The only difference is that instead of making your own way and living only for yourself, you’ll be living for the glory of the Lord, oriented toward him, part of and supported by the whole body of Christ. And that one difference makes all the difference in the world.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you created wondrous diversity. Help us to recognize the unique gifts we each have to offer, that we may serve you fully and build up the whole body of Christ. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Inspired by Jonah 3:1-5, 10

“Jonah began to go into the city, going a days’ walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” Jonah 3:4-5 (NRSV)

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the country that had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel around 732 BC. They did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were not God’s chosen people, and they were understood to be outside of God’s covenant. Jonah’s proclamation was, from their perspective, a message from a ‘foreign’ god, and there was no reason to believe that they would or should take it seriously.

Yet they did take it seriously. Very seriously. When they heard the Word of God, all in the city repented and turned from their evil ways, hoping that God would have mercy on them. Hearing the Word of God had a profound impact on their actions.

How much of an impact does hearing the Word of God have on your actions? Many of us feel so privileged to be forgiven Christians that we don’t put that much importance on the Word of God. We don’t let the bible influence our behaviors, or let a powerfully proclaimed sermon that speaks directly to our hearts really change our lives. In truth, many of us are more likely to allow our local weather forecaster influence our day to day living than the Word of God.

Yet as Christians we have encountered the Word made flesh; therefore that Word should be the most important influence in our lives. God desires us to live fully; those in Nineveh understood that, and heeded the Word from a God they’d never known. Those of us who have encountered the risen Christ and call ourselves by his name should do no less.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you have given us your Word as a gift. Help us to listen and to heed, that we may enjoy the fullness of the lives you have given us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Jeremiah 20:14-18

“Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” Jeremiah 20:18 (NRSV)

While we may want to believe that faith in Christ will spare us from all pain, suffering, turmoil or difficulty, the truth is that we still live in a fallen and sinful world, and the whole creation is groaning for redemption from bondage and decay. The difficulties of living in this world can seem overwhelming. Living as Christians who reject the values of the prevailing culture can cause us to suffer even more, because we can be perceived as threatening to other people’s comfortable way of life.

Such was the case with Jeremiah. Jeremiah called out these words of despair because he was being persecuted for obeying the word of the Lord, proclaiming the word to people who didn’t want to hear it. Jeremiah was overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair, and cursed the very day he was born. But that birth was no accident. For God had told him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God also promised him, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

The people who whom Jeremiah was speaking were hostile to his words, and fought against him. Yet Jeremiah himself knew that despite the suffering he experienced by obeying the Lord, the Lord was with him, and the One who created him would have the final word. And through the centuries and even millennia, the words of Jeremiah have brought many people comfort, and have shown us that feeling hopelessness and despair is not a sign of weak or faulty faith, but are just as much a part of being a faithful follower of God as confidence and certainty are.

Let us pray. God our Comforter, you have promised to be with us. Comfort us with your loving grace, that we may not be defeated by the enemies of your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Friday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Peter 3:1-7

“This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles.” 2 Peter 3:1-2 (NRSV)

The bible is an ancient book. The most recently written parts of it date back about nineteen hundred years, and the oldest from about three thousand years ago, which set down oral tradition that was much older than that.

Yet the words that were spoken and written millennia ago were inspired by our timeless God, with his timeless love and timeless wisdom. While much of the bible deals with specific cultures in specific lands in a specific point in history, the overall message is not bound by time and space. God created the world and everything in it, and saw that it was good. God has guided his people and instructed them in ways of justice, charity, equity, and love. God has desired peace and wellbeing for his people, and told them how they could achieve that in this life. And God sent his Son to save us from ourselves, and to bring us back to the One who created us, who loves us, and who continues to guide us.

The fact that the bible is so old does not mean that it is irrelevant to our lives today. Rather, the fact that the bible is so old demonstrates that God is steadfast in his love, has been with us from the beginning, has never given up on us, and will continue to be with us through the very end.

Let us pray. Eternal God, you have spoken through the prophets and through your Son. Grant us the ears to hear and the wisdom to understand, that we may live justly and peacefully by your words and your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 62:5-12

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” Psalm 62:5 (NRSV)

We put our hope in so many things. Things like jobs, financial security, and power can be useful tools, but intellectually we understand that they will not meet our every need (though we frequently act as though they will). We also put our hope in people: friends and family. Yet as much as we love them, and as close as we may be to them, they (and we) are still sinful human beings, and are also incapable of meeting one’s every need. Even the person we love most in the world will sometimes disappoint us.

And that’s fine. Learning to live with one another’s shortcomings and practicing forgiveness when we inadvertently hurt each other is an important part of mature love. Expecting another person to ‘make me happy’ or ‘save me from my troubles’ or ‘make everything OK’ is unfair to that person, because we’re turning them into an idol, rather than a person to be loved and respected in his or her own right. Only God is capable of meeting such high expectations; only God will never disappoint us, and only God is worthy of our entire hope and trust. Jobs, financial security, and power can help us be good stewards; loved ones can support us and build us up and help us on our journeys. But only God can deliver us and be our salvation.

Let us pray. Majestic God, you have blessed us with the capacity to love other human beings deeply. Enable us to keep our hopes and expectations of each other reasonable and realistic, that we may reserve our worship for you alone. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.