Pentecost 14, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 4:9-14

“But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (NRSV)

We all have a history. We all have a narrative that shapes our lives. We have all experienced things personally that have influenced our choices and worldviews, and we all come from a long line of people who have experienced things that have influenced them and how they have raised their children, throughout the generations. Much of who we are is inherited from the experiences of our ancestors.

It is helpful to know who and where we came from, even as we acknowledge that our past is not our destiny. While our history influences our choices and our worldview, it does not determine our future.

As Christians, we have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. His salvific act has already been accomplished; his disciples have seen the empty tomb and the risen Christ. They have spread the word of his glory to the ends of the earth, and his story has been told through the ages. His story, the good news of his coming, has been told to us, not simply as a piece of interesting information, but as part of our own history. Jesus Christ came to save us. His story is part of our story.

God in Christ is our past, our present, and our future. Never let the sure knowledge of his love slip from your mind; let the truth of his grace shape your choices and your worldview.

Let us pray. Everlasting God, your steadfast love endures forever. Help us to recognize your ongoing acts of grace, that we may be reminded of your mercy throughout our days. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by James 1:17-27

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:26-27 (NRSV)

There are many ways in which our laws and cultures do not reflect godly living. Personal freedoms seem more important than personal morality, and greed is more important than charity.

Many Christians feel obligated to raise an outcry regarding these un-Christian values, but most of the condemnation is directed towards personal morality. Those who condemn laws that allow people to make lifestyle choices which contradict biblical teachings also demand deep cuts to be made to social programs designed to feed the poor and care for the sick. There is much shouting and very little listening, all in the name of God.

Christianity was never designed to be a political system; there will always be laws in place that contradict the will of the Lord. But just because something is permitted by the law of the land does not mean that Christians must practice it; we can remain ‘unstained’ by the world no matter how much immorality is legalized.

But we are also called to care for those in distress in every way that we can. If government programs support those goals, then we are called to support those programs. If the government does not do enough, then we are called to step in with our own resources and accomplish what the government failed to do.

Do you practice your religion by helping those in need? What choices can you make that help you to remain ‘unstained’ by the world while also caring for those in distress?

Let us pray. Compassionate Lord, you have always cared for ‘the least of these.’ Grant us a spirit of humility, that we may seek the wellbeing of others above our own opinions and comfort. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by John 18:28-32

“So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’” John 18:29-30 (NRSV)

Over the centuries many ideas have gained popularity regarding God and how best to worship him and live according to his will. Some of those ideas were fads that fell out of favor after a while; others took root and became part of the tradition that some of us have inherited. But not everything that fell out of favor was worthless, nor is everything that we’ve inherited worth keeping. To determine what is true, we must constantly ask, “Why do we do this? How does this honor God?”

Some of the truths we cling to are based on nothing more than tradition, inertia, and our own sensibilities. When we’re called to justify our beliefs, we make circular arguments; our arguments derive from the ‘truth’ of our initial claim, and therefore support them. For example, the religious leaders believed Jesus to be a criminal. When the Roman governor, acting as judge, asked them what Jesus’ crime was, they merely pointed out that Jesus had been handed over to the Roman governor, and since only criminals were handed over like that, Jesus must be a criminal. No facts, no details of a crime committed. The only proof they had that Jesus was a criminal was the fact that they were treating him like one.

Questioning our practices is healthy for maintaining a living, active faith in our living, active God. He is no empty, circular argument; while he cannot be ‘proven’ with the scientific method, the effects of his love in the world can be perceived. Likewise we cannot assume that all who stand accused of being ‘un-Christian’ actually are, or that those who are rejected by today’s religious authorities are also rejected by God.

What are some of your religious assumptions that haven’t been questioned in a while? What do you get out of clinging to them? Do they honor the God who was executed as a criminal and responded by conquering death and forgiving those who killed and abandoned him?

Let us pray. Loving God, your compassion for us overcame our guilt. Help us to consider our own assumptions with a critical eye, that we may truly honor you in all that we say and do. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 32:15-35

“Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?’ And Aaron said, ‘Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’” Exodus 32:21-24 (NRSV)

We all want to interpret our own actions in the best possible light. When confronted with our own wrongdoing, we usually cast blame on others, and minimize our own culpability.

When asked why he had brought so great a sin upon the people by making the golden calf, Aaron blamed the people, appealing to Moses’ own experience with them to verify that they were “bent on evil.” He accurately described the people coming to him with the request for new gods, but then revised and minimized his own role in making that false god. According to his retelling to Moses, Aaron simply threw all the gold into the fire, and this calf magically formed itself and came out of its own accord! Aaron conveniently left out the part where he meticulously shaped the gold into a mold and intentionally cast the image of a calf.

Aaron was not a victim of circumstance, and, most of the time, neither are we. Aaron made a choice, just as we do. Sometimes they are good choices; sometimes they are not. But the only way to receive forgiveness is to acknowledge our need for it, and confess our sins. Completely and accurately.

Our God is a forgiving God, and he knows us better than we know ourselves. Trust in his mercy, confess your sins, and receive his forgiveness.

Let us pray. Forgiving God, your capacity for forgiveness is greater than our capacity for sin. Grant us the courage to own our sinfulness, that we may be cleansed by your mercy and grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 14, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 32:1-14

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” Exodus 32:1 (NRSV)

In the deepest parts of our beings, we want someone or something to lead us and guide us in the ways that we should go. We want someone in charge that we can depend on. We’re so desperate for something to look up to that we’ll create fictions for ourselves and impart great power and authority upon them, if we can’t find something real to fill that role.

God is the one who belongs in that role. God is the only one that is worthy, and he has the power and the authority in his own right. But God does not operate on our timetables, and we are quick to replace him with a fiction if he doesn’t lead us in the way that we think we should go, at the time we think we should go there.

Remember all that God has done for you in the past; remember how he brought you out of the land of your oppression, saved you from slavery to sin, created a safe path for you through the raging waters, keeping the waves and the currents from overwhelming you. Trust that he didn’t do all that just to abandon you in the wilderness; he is still there, and he is still guiding you. Don’t be concerned that he’s delayed in moving you towards the next step. Perhaps it is simply time for you to camp and rest right now, and he will tell you when it is time to move again.

Do not lose faith and put your trust in a fiction of your own making; trust in the Lord; he alone is worthy of it.

Let us pray. Savior God, you alone are worthy of our trust and devotion. Grant us patience to wait for your timing, that we may remain safely guided by you through this sometimes difficult life. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by John 15:16-25

“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” John 15:19 (NRSV)

We are naturally drawn to those who are similar to ourselves. We seek a place in which we belong, where we are accepted and understood, and that usually occurs when we are surrounded by those who are just like us. But our values and priorities are called into question by the very existence of someone who is not like us, who chooses to live or act differently, according to different values and working towards different goals. In order to justify ourselves, we set out to discredit the ‘other’ in our midst, belittling the ‘different’ person’s values, motives, even character.

As Christians, we are called to a different set of values and priorities than those embraced by our worldly societies. Thus it is not surprising that the world seeks to discredit and reject us, because our very existence calls into question the values and priorities of the world. If we choose something else, might there be something better than what the world has to offer? The world does not want to consider that possibility.

It is also helpful to remember that the Lord God came to earth as a human being, in order to save humanity. Why? Because we were created in the image of God, and he sees in us that likeness to himself that he intentionally fashioned. Jesus came to turn the world towards his Father, because that is where we belong, and that is where we are truly accepted and understood.

Let us pray. Gracious God, you created us in your own image. Help us to recognize your love reflected in our own beings, that we may help turn the whole world towards your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 119:97-104

“Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.” Psalm 119:97 (NRSV)

When we think of ‘law’ we often think of strict, arbitrary rules that must be obeyed in order to avoid harsh punishments. But there are many laws that, while certainly inflexible, serve to provide order in the world and boundaries on which we can depend. Consider the law of gravity. There is no negotiating an exception to that law. If you’re not paying attention when sitting down and you miss your chair, you will fall on the floor, and the likely consequence will be some amount of pain. But now imagine a world with no gravity. Nothing remains where you put it; your ability to move and to rest is greatly impeded. There is no permanence, and there is no order. Chaos reigns supreme.

The law of the Lord is like that. It is inflexible, and there are consequences for disregarding it, but it is not there to impose arbitrary restrictions on our freedom. The law of the Lord provides order in the world, and boundaries on which we can depend. The law of the Lord reveals the will of our maker, and it tells us what we can expect from him. It provides wisdom for how to live peaceably in this world that God created, and obeying it keeps us on the path that he intends us to walk, the path that will lead to peace, understanding, and love.

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you gave us your law as a gift. Help us to meditate on your word, that we may better understand you and your will for your creation. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 5:21-6:9

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 (NRSV)

According to many recent polls and studies most Americans today have a deep mistrust of authority, and this mistrust is becoming more pronounced with each generation. It impacts our politics, our business transactions, our educational systems, our personal relationships, even our religious practice. In many cases, an individual’s pastor or church leadership has very little influence on that person’s religious belief or practice. Instead, people trust their own interpretations over and above the interpretations of those who have been trained and appointed to serve in that capacity.

Sadly, there has been no shortage of pastors and religious leaders (as well as politicians, business leaders, etc.) who have abused their positions of authority in order to satisfy their own selfish desires, earning the mistrust that so many in authority currently experience. However as Christians we are called to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. As God incarnate, Christ was legitimately in a position of authority over all humanity. But not only did he not abuse his authority, he didn’t even exercise it, choosing instead to suffer injustice and death in order to save the world. In reverence to him and the example he set, we who call ourselves by his name are called to give up our own wants and desires for the sake of each other.

When this model is followed by all Christians, then we are all equal in authority. As Martin Luther put it, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” There is no room for abuse of authority here, only an abundance of love.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you sacrificed your own Son for our sake. Grant us the humility to let go of our pride, that we may learn from one another and build each other up as we work to proclaim your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

God will always have competition for our loyalty and devotion. Perhaps he’ll be competing with the prevailing secular culture and its values of greed and selfishness. Perhaps he’ll be competing with a false memory of golden days long past, when everything worked the way it should and everyone did what they were supposed to do.

Whatever the competition, the truth is that we as individuals will always serve one greater force or another. None of us is truly the master of our own universe; we all base our decisions on something outside ourselves. Perhaps it’s the values of the culture in which we live, or perhaps it’s our dreams of how the world ‘should’ be. Whatever it is, we all have to make a choice regarding what is important enough to us to shape our decisions and our lives.

The Lord God created us, redeems us, and sustains us. He desires a world in which every person is given the freedom and the opportunity to fully be who they were created to be, discovering and exploring their gifts without having to worry about injustice, oppression, or violence. No other ‘greater force’ works to ensure the wellbeing of both the individual and the community; only God is worthy of our loyalty and devotion.

Let us pray. God of the ages, you have endured even as the strongest militaries and most robust societies have faded away. Turn our hearts toward you, that your desires will become our desires, and we can serve you with our lives. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Luke 11:5-13

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Luke 11:9 (NRSV)

There is much that we want and expect from God. We understand that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and we expect him to provide solutions to all our problems.

God has that ability, and he does provide solutions to our problems. Unfortunately we often don’t see those solutions, or recognize that they are from God.

Most of the time, we believe we already know what the solution to our problem should be, what we want it to be, and we demand that God provide us that solution, right now. However while God does answer our prayers, he doesn’t meet our demands. The solution he provides to our problem may be very different from the one we want and expect, and because we’re so focused on our demands, we miss the solution our all-knowing and all-powerful God provides.

Or we expect God’s solution to be dramatic, miraculous, and awe-inspiring. As we wait for the skies to thunder and the heavens to shake in response to our need, we miss the simple act performed by an ordinary person that eliminates our need for impressive divine intervention.

Asking, searching, and knocking all suggest humility on our part, and openness to God’s response, whatever it might be. We are welcome to bring our prayers to God; let us trust him to answer them in his own way.

Let us pray. Omnipotent God, your ways are not our ways, and you know better than us what we need. Help us to remain open to your answers, that we may experience the blessings you desire us to have. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.