Lent 2, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Mark 8:27-30

“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” Mark 8:27-29 (NRSV)

Many people who have heard of Jesus have opinions about him, even (or especially) if they do not know him or believe in him. Some people in the modern world dismiss him merely as an historical figure who—quite by accident—achieved a notoriety he did not deserve. Others consider him a revolutionary figure—again strictly historical—whose teachings might have some limited value today. Still others afford him the status of prophet, or wise teacher, or fictional character, or convenient catch-all for all that is good or ill in the world. And that list just barely scratches the surface.

The non-believing population will always have opinions about who Jesus is, and the non-believing population will usually outnumber the believing population. However the tide of popular opinion does not change who Jesus really is—he is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world.

Our confession of Jesus as Messiah affects how we live in the world, and living in the grace of salvation is all the more important when so many around us are lacking faith. Even if yours is the lone voice confessing Jesus as Messiah, your confession and the life you live as a result of it can change the opinion of others. No mere historical figure or fictional character can inspire such a transformation that the Christian way of life can demonstrate. But because Jesus is indeed the Messiah, he has the ability to transform our lives extraordinarily.

Let us pray. Lord our Savior, you came not to save a few, but to save the world. Embolden us to proclaim your name, that others may recognize you as Messiah. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 22:23-31

“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” Psalm 22:30-31 (NRSV)

Regardless of how troubled the world may look to us, God will overcome. Despite the seemingly constant barriers and even defeats that appear to get in the way of expanding the kingdom on earth, God has already triumphed. In the grand scheme of human history, God has already delivered his people.

We who are trapped by the inexorable movement of time can only see the tiny sliver of history that makes up our own lives. Yet even as he accompanies us throughout our lives, the Lord God exists outside of time, and in all times. And he alone has full knowledge and understanding of how the story begins, how it unfolds, and how it ends. He will deliver his people. He is delivering his people. He has already delivered his people. We are a delivered people.

The saving act of Jesus Christ was not limited to first century Palestine. The Word made flesh is the One who is, who was, and who will be, and his salvation is for those who came before as well as for those yet to come. We need not understand it, but knowing what we do know of the story allows us to live it, and proclaim the Lord’s deliverance, and be delivered ourselves.

Let us pray. Timeless God, you created time itself. Enable us to trust in your greatness, that we may live not trapped by our own limited understanding, but faithfully in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Romans 3:21-31

“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22b-24 (NRSV)

Despite how it is sometimes practiced, Christianity is the great equalizer. It matters not who you are, what you have done, what culture or time you were born in, whether you are rich or poor, male or female, revered or reviled by society; when we stand before God we all stand in the same place. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God, and it is only by his grace that we are justified.

Such a reality is nearly incomprehensible. In the world, there is a pecking order of people. Whether we use such language or even acknowledge such concepts or not, the truth is that some people are considered ‘better’ or ‘more deserving’ than others. But not in the eyes of God.

Consider the least deserving person you can imagine. God considers you and that person of equal worth. That is a statement about your own inability to earn his favor as well as a statement about the inherent value God sees in both of you as his beloved children. If only we could treat others as God treats us.

Let us pray. Merciful God, there is nothing you wouldn’t do for the least of these. Grant us the humility to recognize that we too are the least of these, that we may accept your grace as the unwarranted gift that it is. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Proverbs 30:1-9

“Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9 (NRSV)

The so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ claims that if you follow God in a prescribed way, he will bless you with earthly riches and success. At the other end of the spectrum, some Christians believe that only embracing utter poverty will bring one closer to God.

Yet these words of Agur son of Jakeh in the book of Proverbs show a more tempered approach, as well as a recognition of how extremes can drive us from the Lord our God. He prays that the Lord will give him neither poverty nor riches. How many of us pray that prayer? Yet he prays it because he recognizes that with abundant riches he may begin to trust in those riches as his deliverance, and lose sight of the fact that they are a gift from God. And he prays it because he recognizes the utter desperation faced by those in poverty, and fears that that desperation would cause him to lose trust in the Lord and steal for his own survival.

Instead he prays that the Lord will feed him with the food he needs. In other words, he wants just enough to meet his needs, no more, no less, and he hopes to recognize that it is the hand of God that is meeting those needs. How much more peace and justice would exist in the world if we all earnestly strove for just what we needed, and recognized that those needs were being met by God?

Let us pray. God of abundance, you have created enough resources for everyone. Save us from both poverty and wealth, that we may trust in you to provide all that we need. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Peter 3:8-18a

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV)

What should a Christian community look like? It has nothing to do with strict adherence to a well-defined and detailed moral code. It has nothing to do with judgment or condemnation. And it has nothing to do with litmus tests for piety or specific spiritual gifts. A Christian community should be where each and every member looks at every other member with love, tenderness, humility, sympathy, and in unity of spirit.

So what does that look like? Imagine a community where a person is acting contrary to the norm. Rather than that person being judged, threatened, or censured, every other person in the community would seek to understand why the person is acting that way, and would be open to the possibility that such behavior, though different and unexpected, is in no way contrary to the calling of the Spirit, and may even be worth emulating. Or, if such behavior is actually indisputably sinful, every member sought to understand what drove the person to such sin, understand the reality of human frailty and practice forgiveness, understanding that none of us is capable of a perfectly righteous relationship with God. That isn’t to say that sin is ignored or accepted, but rather that the community would be understanding, and seek to encourage (not threaten) this person to a better way of life.

Most of our Christian communities fall short of this ideal. But as Christians in community with one another, this is our calling. One person attempting to live according to these principles may encourage more to do so, and we may begin to transform our communities into places of safety and grace that can serve as beacons of hope to the world.

Let us pray. God of unity, you have called many different people to you. Grant us the love and humility to accept all your children and their differences as you have, that we may truly be the whole body of Christ in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 2:1-10

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NRSV)

Much is made about what good Christians must do in order to be good Christians. To a point, this is a helpful consideration, as we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which is the Christian way of life. But there is a difference between a way of life, and a reason for life. And our reason for the Christian life is God’s unearned gift of grace.

Through no merit of our own, God sent his only Son to die for us. Salvation comes through the grace of Christ. Period. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve that grace. Being a ‘good’ Christian is not what determines our standing before God. Rather, it is our standing before God that determines how we might live our lives.

In healthy human relationships, a person does something pleasing for another person not to compel greater favor or more love, but simply to make that person happy. Such is the way Christians are to approach good works. We do not do them in order to manipulate God into loving us and granting us salvation; God already loves us and has granted us salvation. It’s in response to that love and salvation that we may live freely for one another, being the people God created us to be, not worrying if what we do is ‘good’ enough, but knowing that God loved us first. Living the Christian way of life is not the price of admission, but is itself part of the reward.

Let us pray. Gracious God, you desire good things for your people. Help us to live in response to your grace, that we may live joyful and peaceful lives, full of the all-encompassing love that comes from you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by Genesis 9:8-17

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:16 (NRSV)

As we go about our ordinary days, surrounded by ordinary people and ordinary things, it’s easy to lose sight of the extraordinary God who walks with us. We long to see something extraordinary that reminds us of his presence.

God certainly can and does use the extraordinary to bring our focus back to him, but much more often he uses the ordinary to remind us that he is with us even at the most mundane times. Every time we encounter water, we are reminded that we have died, been buried, and have risen with Christ through baptism. Every time we encounter the ordinary elements of a basic meal—bread and wine—we are reminded that the God of all became man and gave his body and his blood for us. Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, we are reminded that God has promised all the creatures of the earth to never again destroy the earth with floodwaters.

And God himself is reminded of his promises by these same elements—water, bread, wine, a rainbow. These are all earthly elements, and the Lord God walks with us on earth, in our earthly lives, and sees these reminders with us. And it is his presence with us that makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you have promised us many things, and given us many signs to accompany those promises. Help us to recognize those signs, that we may trust in your faithfulness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 9:2-13

“And as [Jesus] sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’” Matthew 9:10-12 (NRSV)

Who do you spend your time with? It’s good to remain in community with other believers, so that you might encourage one another and build one another up in the faith. However we’re not called to form exclusive clubs with strict membership requirements. Jesus didn’t demand people change their lives or confess statements of faith before he dined or associated with them. It didn’t matter who you were—a disciple, a tax collector, a Pharisee, a prostitute—Jesus was pleased to have you with him and treated you with dignity and respect. You didn’t even have to come to him first, showing an interest in him or a desire to change your ways; this dinner party began with Jesus walking along and seeing Matthew the tax collector sitting in his tax booth, minding his own (likely exploitative) business. With no sign of interest from Matthew at all, Jesus approached him and called him to follow. No conditions that he must fulfill first, no threats of what would happen to his soul if he didn’t; just the invitation, “Follow me.” And Matthew followed, and was invited to dinner.

We are to take strength and encouragement from other believers, but we are also called to go out into the world and treat everyone, even the worst sinners we can imagine, with dignity and respect, no strings attached. Experiences of grace inspire conversion, not threats or conditions.

Let us pray. God of kindness, you created every human being in your image. Teach us to show all your children the dignity and respect they deserve, that all may experience your love and grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Daniel 9:15-25a

“Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.” Daniel 9:18 (NRSV)

When you pray, do you pray with expectation that your prayer will be answered? Such expectation is appropriate, but only when it flows from humility. The truth is that God owes us nothing. We have done nothing to deserve his favor. We can never be good enough, holy enough, pious enough, or zealous enough to deserve his patronage. We have no right to demand anything, or to expect anything from God in return for anything we have done. There is no quid pro quo, there is no mutually beneficial bargain that can be struck.

Yet we can still pray with expectation. Not because of the merit of our prayer or of the one who prays it, but because of the merit of the one to whom we are praying. God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. For our sake he sent his only Son to die for us, and for his sake forgives us all our sins. We did nothing to deserve that, and can do nothing to repay that. But we can live forgiven and redeemed lives, because that redemption is based not on the worth of those who receive it, but on the worth of the one who gives it.

Let us pray. Merciful Lord, you have redeemed us for your own sake and for the sake of your Son. Grant us the humility to recognize the source of our salvation, that we may proclaim a gospel of abundant grace to all your people. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Daniel 9:1-14

“Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, ‘Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.’” Daniel 9:4-6 (NRSV)

Daniel was a good and righteous man, who always remained faithful to the Lord his God. There is no account in the bible of him sinning, acting wickedly, turning aside from God’s commandments, or ignoring God’s word.

Yet when he prayed, he identified himself with all the people of Judah and their sins. He didn’t put himself in a position of judgment over his fellow citizens and try to intercede on the grounds of his own righteousness; he confessed “We have sinned and done wrong…We have not listened to your servants the prophets.” Daniel was of Judah, and their sins were his sins. Their fate was his fate. Rather than condemn them for their sins or try to distance himself from them, he simply prayed for mercy.

Are we as charitable to our communities as Daniel was to his? When we point out the ways in which our society has failed to live up to God’s expectations, do we do so as participants in that society, or as observers?

God created each of us individually, but we are all part of the whole body of Christ. What happens to one of us affects us all. Not one of us is truly righteous by our own merit, but we are all saved by grace through faith in Christ. Even when our neighbors don’t recognize Christ as their savior, we simply do not have the option of writing them off and distancing ourselves from them; they are God’s beloved children, and we’re all in this world together.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you sent your Son to identify with us and to die for us, even as we were sinning against you. Enable us to recognize this community that you have created, that we may not push others further from an experience of your grace, but rather help to bring in those who have gone astray. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.