Pentecost 5, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 9:1-5

“So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.” 2 Corinthians 9:5 (NRSV)

Human beings live by their emotions. How we feel frequently determines how we act and what we say. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to get caught up in the moment and do something that feels right and seems like a good idea at the time, only to regret it when the highly charged emotions of that moment fade and only the consequences of their actions are left.

There is certainly room for forgiveness for our occasional emotionally charged deeds. But we also have to remember that words matter. Promises made during an emotional high are still promises, and people depend on those promises being kept as they engage in their own planning processes. Not keeping those promises can lead to hurt feelings, failed plans, and sometimes demands for faithfulness to the promises made regardless of how the person feels about keeping those promises now.

Emotions are not bad, but they cannot be the sole or even the primary influence in our decision-making. What is your state of mind when you promise to give or do something? What is the emotion you’re experiencing as you make that decision? God won’t ask more of you than you can give, though people (even God’s people) often do. Let your faith, your reason, and yes, even your emotions work together to guide you in your decisions, so that the promises you make will be kept willingly, and not because you feel you have to.

Let us pray. God of abundance, you have given us many blessings. Help us to recognize the limits of our resources and our abilities, that we may serve you faithfully and willingly. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

“We intend that no one should blame us about this generous gift that we are administering, for we intend to do what is right not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of others.” 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 (NRSV)

It seems that so much of the Christian life involves doing what is right in the Lord’s sight even though the world will scorn and reject us for it. So it seems a bit odd to read a verse in which Paul states his intention to both do what is right in the Lord’s sight and do what is right in the sight of others. How can one do both?

Paul wasn’t talking about doing what was right in the sight of just any others; he wanted to do what was right in the sight of those who had entrusted to him the collection and administration of monies donated to the greater ministry of the church. His work was indisputably for the Lord. But Paul and his companions might have had their own ideas about how the money could best be used to support the ministry, ideas that wouldn’t necessarily be shared by those who had appointed them to the task. Because the task was in support of proclaiming the good news of God in Christ Jesus, however Paul chose to execute that task probably would have been right in the Lord’s sight. But those who had appointed him were also working to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus, and Paul wanted to work in unity with them. So he endeavored to do what was right in their sight, which also would have been right in the Lord’s sight.

With all the work that is to be done, it is best when we can work together, sometimes putting aside our own opinions and ideas in order to help someone else achieve their vision of this particular ministry at this particular time. We must keep our constant focus on doing the will of the Lord, which involves holding others accountable as they do his work, and being held accountable ourselves.

Let us pray. Holy Lord, you bless all work that faithfully proclaims your grace. Enable us to hold one another accountable, that all your people may work in unity of purpose. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NRSV)

There are those who follow Christ believing it will lead them to material wealth and monetary gain. Their belief is based on the many verses in the bible that promise God will bless those who serve him, and even verses like the one today support their claim. Most of those people end up disappointed, and many of them come to a bad end, exposed as charlatans that exploit people for their own personal gain, with no thought whatsoever for the will of the one they claim to serve.

The Lord God created the world and everything in it out of nothing. Only human beings received something that was not itself a part of creation: the breath of life from God. Everything in the world that we value (excluding other people) is worth nothing to God, because that’s what he created it from. Money is a tool to help ensure everyone gets the resources they need, no more. The blessings of God have nothing to do with this tool, or our desire to hoard it.

God has all the power in the universe. He can reorder time, rewrite the rules of the natural earth, create life, and be worshiped and revered by all. He gave that up to be born in a stable, live as a poor itinerant preacher, be falsely accused of sedition, and be brutally tortured and executed for a crime he didn’t commit. And he did all this to free us from the penalty of the crime we committed, and to ensure that we would be raised to eternal life and live in the glory of God forever.

What can we give back to him to repay him for his generous act? We are called to give him everything, and nothing will ever erase our debt. This is grace, freely given, freely received.

Let us pray. Generous Lord, you gave yourself for us. Grant us humbleness of spirit, that we may recognize all the blessings you have indeed given us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Luke 4:31-37

“They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.” Luke 4:32 (NRSV)

It appears that there were many teachers of scripture in Jesus’ day, but none of them taught ‘with authority.’ Yet at the same time, the scribes and Pharisees saw themselves as the authority on such matters. If they had the authority to teach, why was everyone so amazed that Jesus taught with authority?

There is authority that one claims for oneself, and then there is true authority. The scribes and Pharisees were well versed in scripture, and in their own interpretation of it. But scripture tells the story of God’s interaction with his creation, and the scribes and Pharisees had no direct insight into the mind of God. They only knew what had been given to them, what had already been layered over with meaning by those who had interpreted it before them.

Jesus, on the other hand, was God incarnate, God made flesh. Jesus had direct insight into the mind of God because Jesus was God. It was out of his own being that he was able to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because it was his own kingdom, his own good news. No interpretations, no other layers of meaning that had been added on over the generations.

That authority still exists. Christ is risen, and is seated at the right hand of God. He has sent his Spirit among us to guide us in his ways and help understand his truth.

No single human being today has authority in the sense that Jesus had it, but the Holy Spirit is still among us, bringing us together into the body of Christ, and helping us to understand how the authority of scripture is still valid today. Only together, with all our varied perspectives and experiences, can we begin to recognize just what God has done for us, and how we can live in that reality.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you are the ultimate authority in all of creation. Help us to recognize your authority in our lives, that we may understand your teachings and be amazed by your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 30

“For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)

We all know someone who can nurse a grudge for a very long time. Perhaps you are that someone. It can be easy to do; sometimes it seems as though the whole world is out to get you, and everyone is quick to hurt, neglect, or disadvantage you if it serves to further their own agenda.

Sometimes the hurt is intentional; sometimes it is accidental and completely unnoticed by the one who did it. But we’ve all experienced it, not only as the one who has been wronged, but as the one who has wronged another. And one ‘other’ that we’ve all wronged is God.

Every one of us has sinned against God. Multiple times. And our sin angers God. But God does not nurse a grudge the way that we do; he is quick to forgive, and his mercy is everlasting. He may punish us for our transgressions, but our punishment will be no more than we need to learn the lesson, and it is intended to set us on the right path. And walking on the right path, living in accordance with God’s will, is the greatest favor we could ever imagine.

We can avoid intentionally wronging another when we walk on the right path; when we are wronged, intentionally or accidentally, we can practice the same forgiveness that God has given us, and further spread his love and his favor.

Let us pray. Forgiving God, your mercy is everlasting. Help us to forgive others as you have forgiven us, that we may spread your blessings throughout the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 5, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 7:2-16

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NRSV)

Most of us spend our lives trying to achieve happiness, or at least contentment. We want peace and prosperity, security and comfort. An entire industry has grown up around instructing people how to achieve these things, and most of those instructions lack any useful advice for dealing with grief. Conventional wisdom declares that grief is bad, and if you are experiencing it for some reason, you must get over it as quickly as you can, because nothing good will come from it.

Conventional wisdom is wrong.

While some will acknowledge that there may be some value to working through the grief that comes from losing someone we love, all other types of grief are vilified. Especially the grief that comes from having our sins and our faults pointed out to us. The truth can hurt, and none of us likes hearing it. But the truth is that not everything we do is good for us or for our communities, and we need to hear the grievous truth in order to see the damage we’re causing and change our ways. But this is the godly grief that produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, for once we’ve recognized our sin we can receive forgiveness and become more fully the people that God has called us to be. Avoiding or ignoring such grief and its cause leaves us in our sinful state, being an active threat to not only our own but to others’ peace, prosperity, security, and comfort. This will lead to regret and, ultimately, death.

There is a time for everything, including grief. Be open to hearing the hard truth, so that you can experience the godly grief that produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret. Such is an important ingredient to achieving contentment in this life.

Let us pray. God of truth, you know everything about us. Enable us to face the harsh realities about ourselves, that we may be open to making the changes that would reflect your grace in our lives. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 4, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Joshua 10:1-14

“There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded a human voice; for the LORD fought for Israel.” Joshua 10:14 (NRSV)

Our world is based on cause and effect, and we bring that mode of being to God. We ask God for what we want, and we either get it or we don’t. If we get it, we thank God for answering our prayers. If we don’t, we wonder why our prayers are left unanswered.

But the purpose of prayer is not to tell God what we want and expect him to deliver like some kind of Santa Claus. The purpose of prayer is to be in relationship with the one who creates us, redeems us, and sustains us. God doesn’t do what we want just because we ask him nicely; he does what is in accordance with his own will. Nor does he need us to tell him what we want; he already knows.

The Lord does not heed a human voice; humans must heed the voice of the Lord. In prayer, rather than asking for what you want from God, ask God what he wants from you. Be open to his word, and let his spirit transform your heart so that your will is in accordance with his. Then you will begin to see your prayers answered, because you and God will desire the same things, and will be working towards the same goals. When that happens, rather than petitioning some distant, magical entity, your prayer time will become a pleasant dialogue between two very close friends.

Let us pray. Omnipotent God, nothing is beyond your power. Give us the ears to hear your voice, that we may heed your will and do your work in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 4, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 65

“When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.” Psalm 65:3 (NRSV)

No matter how faithful we try to be, we all sin. We sin willfully and repeatedly. Perhaps we try to justify our behaviors to ourselves, and convince ourselves that we’re not actually sinning. Perhaps we carefully turn a blind eye on our own sins, and work hard at not noticing or acknowledging them. Or perhaps we beat ourselves up over them, telling ourselves that we’re worthless and beyond all hope. Whatever the case, the fact remains that we are, by our own conscious actions, overwhelmed by our sin.

But we are not worthless or beyond hope. God knows what we’re capable of, and what we’re not capable of. And however great our transgressions may be, God’s capacity for forgiveness is greater.

We are called to follow the Lord, and that includes acknowledging when we fail to do so. We must recognize our sins and acknowledge them before the Lord in order to receive his forgiveness. When we justify ourselves in our own sight, we do not recognize our need for forgiveness, and therefore close ourselves off from it.

Acknowledge your sin, trust in the Lord’s mercy, and receive his forgiveness.

Let us pray. Merciful Lord, your steadfast love endures forever. Help us to recognize and acknowledge our sins, that we may receive your forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 4, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 7:14-24

“Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Exodus 7:20-22 (NRSV)

We work hard at what we do; we have a lot of ourselves invested in our worldviews, and in the way we approach life. And when our work is questioned or our worldview challenged, we take it as a personal affront. We cannot objectively look at the facts or the evidence; we have too much at stake, and too much will be lost if we are proved ‘wrong.’ But what is the cost of maintaining our own infallibility? What do we lose by fighting so hard against those forces that would try to have us see another way?

Pharaoh sacrificed his country’s resources, the wellbeing of his citizens, eventually even the lives of all the firstborn in his realm, all because he was so sure that he needed the Hebrew slaves. In the end he lost them, too, as well as the army he sent to bring them back.

The God who sent Moses to Pharaoh is the same God who would have us let go of our own self-righteousness in order to accept his righteousness. The God who sent Moses to Pharaoh is the same God who will never forsake us, even if we give up on ourselves. The God who sent Moses to Pharaoh is the same God who sent his own Son to instruct us in his ways of grace and mercy, and to give up his own life for us.

Let us pray. Powerful God, you are far greater than we could ever imagine. Grant us the wisdom to see your truth, that we may let go of our own falsehoods and live in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by Mark 4:35-41

“On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Mark 4:35-37 (NRSV)

In many ways, we live as those who traveled with Jesus in the ‘other boats’ that were with him. We follow him in faith, and trust in his presence even though we can’t physically see him, touch him, or have an interactive conversation with him. Sometimes it’s not too difficult to do; other times, it is.

Intellectually, most of us know that following Christ doesn’t mean that everything will always go smoothly. It doesn’t mean that we’ll be spared the pain and the suffering that comes with being human in a world created good but corrupted by sin. Yet we’re still somewhat surprised when one of life’s storms suddenly comes upon us. And then we might cry out to the Lord in our anger and fear, only we can’t see Jesus asleep on a cushion right in front of us. We can’t take comfort in his physical presence with us, so when we cry out, we cry out in the blindness of a storm at sea, and we can only hope that our cries will be answered, and the storm will be stilled.

Eventually our storms do still, and we see that we’ve survived. Even though the human Jesus is not physically present in our day to day lives, God in Christ is with us at all times and in all places. He hears our cries, he sees our peril, and he responds with grace, mercy, and peace.

Let us pray. Ever-present God, you will never abandon us. Help us to recognize your grace in our lives when our troubles seem to melt away, that we may trust always in your mercy and your love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.