Pentecost 10, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 12:43-13:2

“[T]here shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” Exodus 12:49 (NRSV)

People tend to draw together based on what they have in common. Like gravitates toward like, and people want to feel as though they truly belong in their community. A shared history often helps to foster that sense of belonging.

When God established the Passover and led the Israelites out of slavery, he reminded them that they had been foreigners in a foreign land. As such, they were to be particularly hospitable to the foreigners who found themselves in the land of the Israelites, and that any foreigner who wished to be circumcised and live as the Israelites lived was to be welcomed as an Israelite, no different than one who was native-born. The shared history was not based on bloodlines, heritage, or place of birth; the shared history was based on entering into the covenant relationship with the God of Israel.

As Christians we often find our congregations segregating into distinct demographics, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; we should feel as though we belong in our worshiping communities. But we cannot use those demographics as entrance criteria, enabling us to bar people with different backgrounds or perspectives from worshiping with us. Our shared history is that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and all are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. Whoever shares that history—whatever their citizenship or heritage, whatever their understanding of what it means or how to apply it to their lives—is a sister or brother with us in Christ.

Let us pray. Lord of all nations, you have called all people to you. Help us to welcome the strangers in our midst, that all may know your mercy and grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 10, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

“Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear there are divisions among you; and to some extent, I believe it.” 1 Corinthians 11:17-18 (NRSV)

Simply attending church and treating it like any other social organization does not make one a Christian. Although we are all sinners, we come together as church first and foremost to worship God, and to build up the body of Christ. Insisting on having things our own way and clinging to our petty grievances and prejudices dishonors the God who gave himself up for us and breaks down the body of Christ.

Sadly, to those not part of the Christian community, the church looks like a place of prejudice and division, because we allow those things to define who we are and how we do things. Non-Christians have no trouble believing the most horrible offenses caused by some of those in the church, and even expect such terrible behavior because the rest of us often remain silent in the face of such actions. Many people are surprised to find loving, healthy congregations when for one reason or another they finally decide to give the church a chance.

Not sure how to behave in church? What honors God? What builds up your brothers and sisters in Christ? How would you feel in someone else’s place, on the receiving end of your words and actions? Christ put himself in our place and took the penalty for our sin. Let us come together in thanksgiving for all the barriers he broke down with his sacrifice, rather than rejecting his grace by building those barriers back up again.

Let us pray. Merciful Lord, you gave yourself up for us. Enable us to act selflessly, that our congregations may be beacons of hope to the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 25:6-10a

“And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.” Isaiah 25:7-8a (NRSV)

There are many things wrong in the world. Countless people are living in poverty, oppressed by the greedy and the powerful, or struggling to survive in the midst of war and violence. There are so many problems that it is tempting to give up hope, to assume that nothing will ever change, and that God either does not care or does not exist at all.

But God does exist, and he does care. He has created enough resources in the world for everyone, and he has extended his mercy and his repentance to both the victims and the perpetrators of injustice. The problems in the world are of our own making, and God is actively working through his people to address them. The shroud of hopelessness and death will be lifted, is being lifted, has been lifted, as people realize that Christ has already swallowed up death forever, and we don’t have to be enslaved to death, violence, greed, or power any more.

There is suffering in the world, but God has not forgotten his people. He has sent his Son to be the light of the world. If we want to stop sitting in darkness, all we have to do is open our eyes and see what he has done.

Let us pray. God of light, you have lifted us out of the darkness. Open our eyes to your glory, that we may see your hope and your mercy. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Romans 15:22-33

“They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things.” Romans 15:27 (NRSV)

In Christ we have perfect freedom. We are freed from sin, we are freed from death, we are freed from our own past mistakes, and we are freed from all those things that limit our potential as beloved children of God. But in that freedom, we also have responsibilities.

God in Christ has called us together into one body, and a body cannot function well if all its members are not doing their part. As members of the body of Christ we are called to share all that God has given us, spiritually, materially, and otherwise. Whoever you are, however you came to hear the word proclaimed, you have benefited from someone else sharing what they had; you owe it to Christ and to the people of God to share what you have with others.

Do you have more material resources than you need? Share them with those who are struggling to obtain life’s necessities. Do you have spiritual gifts like teaching, care-giving, or worship leadership? Share them with those who could benefit from such gifts. By doing so everyone will grow closer to God.

All that we have comes from God, and as part of living up to our potential as his beloved children, we are to share what he has given us, even as we share in the gifts he has given to others.

Let us pray. Generous God, you have given us many gifts. Help us to help one another, that we may grow and strengthen the body of Christ in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 4:10-20

“I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 (NRSV)

There are faithful Christians among the wealthy, and there are faithful Christians among the poor. Both situations have challenges inherent to their circumstances, and neither indicates a greater blessing from or standing before God.

Whatever our circumstances on earth, we are called to be faithful to Christ. If we are wealthy, we have the opportunity to be grateful for what we have and to share our resources with those who aren’t as fortunate. If we are poor, we have the opportunity to receive kindness from others, and to see Christ at work through his people, and to witness to that work. Whatever our circumstances on earth, Christ is with us, strengthening us against temptation or despair, as the situation may warrant.

Few of us remain entirely wealthy or entirely poor all our lives. We will at different times experience different levels of prosperity and want. But whatever our current circumstances may be, remember that it is not indicative of God’s favor; rather it’s an opportunity to witness to and experience Christ in a different way. And remember, you can do all things, bear all things, and rejoice in all things, through him who strengthens you.

Let us pray. God of abundance, you provide us with all we need. Help us to be content with what we have, that we may recognize all your blessings in our lives. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by John 6:1-21

“When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” John 6:15 (NRSV)

If you read enough religious literature, if you attend enough different churches, you’ll discover a multiplicity of Jesuses. Jesus was a militant revolutionary. Jesus was a peace-loving hippie. Jesus was a wise teacher. Jesus was a simple carpenter. Jesus had high moral and behavioral expectations. Jesus was a live-and-let-live kind of guy. There is an element of truth to all these pictures of Jesus, but none of them captures the entirety of who Jesus is, and what he did.

Jesus resists easy categorization. He resists being conscripted into championing human causes even more, no matter how just and righteous those causes might be. The people in today’s passage had just experienced a miraculous feeding of five thousand of them, with only five barley loaves and two fish. They saw in Jesus someone who would provide for them, see to their needs, and take care of them. They wanted such a person to be their ruler, be their king. Not an unreasonable desire, given the circumstances.

But while Jesus’ ministry included seeing to people’s physical needs, it’s not what he came for, and he refused to be limited to that role. The fact that they were about to come and take him ‘by force’ suggests that they knew he didn’t want to be their king. But they didn’t care what Jesus wanted; they only cared what they wanted, and that proves that they weren’t ready for Jesus to be their ruler.

We never took him by force, but by his own actions Jesus eventually made himself king and ruler over all of us. He is Lord of our lives, and it is to him that we owe our allegiance and our service. Not to the Jesus of our own limited causes and imaginations, but to the true Jesus, who is Lord of lords.

Let us pray. Sovereign God, your kingdom includes and transcends this earth. Open our eyes to your majesty, that we may worship the true King of kings, rather than a lesser god of our own making. Through Christ our lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by John 4:31-38

“I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” John 4:38 (NRSV)

When you look at old photographs that show a different era—forty or eighty or even a hundred and twenty years ago—it’s difficult to imagine how we got to where we are today from how things were back then. It’s even more difficult when we read literature or see paintings depicting times even further back in our history—hundreds or thousands of years ago—and it seems so separate from life as we know it.

Yet every single one of us occupies only a tiny span of the history of the ages. What seems so monumental to us, what shapes us so profoundly, is likely to be forgotten as time moves forward. Yet our experiences do profoundly shape us, and others will build on what we begin, just as we complete what others have begun before us, perhaps unaware of what shaped and inspired them to do things as they did.

While we may not be aware of what we are doing, we are reaping what others have sown, even as we sow what others will reap after us. For good or for ill, we are all connected, past, present, and future. Only God, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, will see the story of the world unfold in its entirety. And not only will he see it, he is its author, and he is a part of it.

Let us pray. Creator God, you work through human history. Help us to live faithfully, that we may both sow and reap according to your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Colossians 3:12-17

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:12-13 (NRSV)

People who interact with each other on a regular basis will inadvertently hurt one another. It’s inevitable; humans are sinful beings, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot be more than human. Whether we’re talking about people in a marriage, an extended family, a workplace, or a church, it’s guaranteed that at some point, we will sin against each other and we will hurt one another.

But it’s also guaranteed that we’ll have the opportunity to forgive one another, and to be forgiven ourselves. None of us was called by Christ because of our perfection—quite the opposite, actually! And no one we interact with is perfect, either. But Christ is perfect, and he demonstrated for us what perfect love and perfect forgiveness looks like; it looks like someone seeing a valued human being in the face of everyone he or she encounters, and looking out for their interests over and above our own. It looks like someone willingly bearing another’s burdens because no one should have to struggle alone. It looks like someone giving up his life for others, and forgiving those who murdered him even as they were in the very act of doing so.

We will be wronged by those we are close to, and we will sin against those we love. But we have been forgiven by the one we killed, and that forgiveness transcends death and sin. We can forgive as we have been forgiven, and we can be forgiven as we forgive.

Let us pray. Merciful Lord, you are the way, the truth, and the life. Help us to follow your ways, that we may forgive those who hurt us and be forgiven by those we hurt as we journey together in this life. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 9, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Colossians 1:9-14

“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:9-10 (NRSV)

Parents are very familiar with the question, “Are we there yet?” No matter if the journey is five minutes, five hours, or five days, chances are that question will be asked at some point. The journey is a means to the end; the destination is what’s anticipated and desired.

Christians frequently take the same approach with our spiritual journeys. We want to be enlightened, living lives pleasing to the Lord, knowledgeable about his will and his ways. These are good things to want; but they are not a destination we can reach. Accomplishing these goals is the journey.

As we grow in our knowledge of God, we live lives that are pleasing to him and bear fruit. But as we grow in our knowledge of God, we discover how much we still do not know, how much we still have to grow. This is not a failure on our part; it is a gift from God. When a relationship stops growing it stagnates, and the parties eventually drift apart, failing to be shaped by new experiences together. But as we continue to grow in the Lord, our relationship with him is strengthened, and we grow deeper in our knowledge, in our love, and in our commitment. Thanks be to God that he gives us that opportunity, and that wherever we are on our spiritual journeys, whether we’ve been travelling with him for five minutes or for our entire lives, he is with us, giving us what we need to grow still closer to him.

Let us pray. God of love, you give us what we need to be pleasing to you. Encourage us in our journeys, that we may appreciate where we are and bear fruit in our current circumstances. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 8, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Luke 15:1-7

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2 (NRSV)

When you go to your church, who do you see in the seats or pews around you? Do you see people you would characterize as ‘sinners’? If your congregation has an outreach to people whom society would characterize as ‘undesirable,’ due either to their behavior or their circumstances, do you invite them to sit and worship with and among you as part of your outreach? Do you recognize them as being equal with you before God?

We like to think of our churches as being full of good people who are trying to live according to God’s will, and that the sinners are in other places where we go periodically to try to help them see the light. But the truth is that our churches are full of sinners, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

Jesus spoke for all to hear. He didn’t check IDs before healing or performing miracles that would help other people. If someone invited him to dinner, he accepted, unconcerned as to whether his host was a respected Pharisee or a despised tax collector. The only prerequisite for Jesus’ attention was wanting it, and being willing to draw near to him.

Church is a place where we can draw near to God, by hearing the Word proclaimed and by being in fellowship with one another. No congregation has its full contingent of sinners; all of them need more. Let us welcome all who draw near.

Let us pray. God of redemption, all are in need of your grace. Help us to recognize society’s undesirables as our sisters and brothers, that we may welcome your own into your house and hear your word together. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.