Lent 4, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 107:1-16 

“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress…Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind…Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress…Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.”  Psalm 107:6,8,13,15 (NRSV) 

Psalm 107 praises God for his steadfast love, and for his faithfulness to his people when they cry out to him in distress. But what’s truly amazing is the description of those who ‘cried to the Lord in their trouble.’ They are those who wandered hungry and thirsty in desert wastes, unable to find an inhabited town for help; they are those who had rebelled against the words of God and therefore sat as prisoners in darkness and gloom. They are those whose sinful ways made them physically ill; they are those who were doing business on the seas and were caught in a storm. Some were simply misguided, some were caught up in circumstances beyond their control, and some were willfully disobedient to God, yet all cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

Many people today only cry to the Lord when they’re in trouble, and he’s just as likely to deliver them as he is to deliver those who are in constant relationship with him. God’s love is greater than ours, and he does not hold a grudge when one of his beloved children is in trouble.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. If we recognize and enjoy his steadfast love when he saves us from our troubles, imagine how much more we can recognize and enjoy his steadfast love if we remain in constant relationship with him.

Let us pray. God of steadfast love, you will never forsake your people. Turn our hearts to you, that we may call out to you with praise and thanksgiving, as well as when we’re in trouble, that we may always recognize your wonderful works for humankind. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by John 3:14-21 

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:14-17 (NRSV) 

John 3:16 is probably the most quoted verse of the entire bible, for good reason. That verse provides the most vital information there is about God the Father and his Son Jesus. God the Father’s love and concern for the world was so great that he gave his only Son, who willingly died in order for humankind to have a way to gain eternal life through him.

But while that verse is usually quoted by itself, the verses around it also provide vital information. The story of Moses that’s mentioned involves people willfully sinning against God, and God providing a way for them to be spared death for their sin. We must understand that we are being compared to those who willfully sinned against God. We got ourselves into this mess, and we deserve death for our sins, but God has sent us his Son to spare us from the consequences of our own actions. Christ’s salvation is not optional; we need him.

At the same time, while Christ reveals our need for a Savior, he doesn’t condemn us for our sin. He didn’t come pointing an accusing finger; he came to provide us a gateway to his Father in heaven, to cleanse us from our sin and prepare a place for us in the kingdom of God.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Those of us who recognize Christ as that Savior must proclaim the good news of salvation to those who have not yet heard or accepted it. Christ did not come to condemn the world, and neither should we, as we all need to look to the Son of Man who was lifted up for our sake.

Let us pray. Compassionate God, you sent your Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. Enable us to show the same compassion to the rest of humanity that you have shown to us, that we may reflect your loving intentions. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by John 3:1-13

“Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’” John 3:3-4 (NRSV)

God created us as intelligent beings, and endowed us with a natural curiosity and the ability to reason logically. However such gifts are only part of what enables us to understand the world around us. There’s much in our lives that cannot be precisely measured, analyzed, or observed, and the language we use to describe such experiences cannot be understood literally.

Nicodemus was a learned man, a Pharisee schooled in the laws of Moses and the ways of the God of Israel, and he was trying to understand who Jesus was. But Jesus’ words and actions defied Nicodemus’ understanding, and when he tried to reason it out logically and literally, he was left with the ridiculous notion of a grown man having to somehow enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time in order to see the kingdom of God.

But the kingdom of God is not bound by the laws of physics, and therefore cannot be observed through scientific study. The kingdom of God is one of those experiences that cannot be precisely measured or analyzed, nor can it be understood in literal terms. But the God of heaven does not leave us to our own rational devices to understand him. God has sent us his Son and his Spirit to reveal what is hidden, and to bridge the gap between our understanding and our acceptance. We do not necessarily need to understand something in order to accept its truth; it just is. And the kingdom of heaven is like that.

Nicodemus wasn’t trying to mock Jesus or trap him with logic; he was earnestly trying to understand with the gift of reasoning that God had given him. And Jesus patiently explained that which cannot be explained, and though Nicodemus probably never did fully understand, he did eventually grow to accept the truth of Jesus enough to risk his own reputation in order to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

Let us pray. Patient God, your kingdom transcends rational thought. Grant us the wisdom to know when to abandon logic for faith, that we may embrace your truth. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Daniel 12:5-13 

“Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” Daniel 12:10 (NRSV) 

To be a Christian is to be a member of the body of Christ, a part of the whole, and cannot be done in isolation. However it is an individual choice and effort to determine how best to participate, depending on the unique gifts and abilities God has given each of us.

Attempts to ‘Christianize’ a nation or even the world by political mandate and enforcement are misguided at best and dangerous at worst. For a person who follows the letter of the law only to avoid earthly punishment and imprisonment is not someone who is wise, being purified, cleansed, and refined by the Word of God. Furthermore it sets up an artificial dichotomy between good and evil, Christian and unchristian. It also provides incentive for the wicked to not only seek their own interests, but to fight against anything that might be part of the oppressive ruling regime—i.e. makes those who have had Christianity forced upon them enemies of Christ and his followers.

We who follow the Lord of Life are not called to eliminate wickedness from the world. We are called to resist wickedness within ourselves, to reflect the joy of grace received in our lives, and to function together as the whole body of Christ, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in our words and actions. For Jesus came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Let us pray. Lord of Life, it’s your place alone to judge the world. Enable us to follow the law you have written on our hearts, that we may trust you to reveal yourself in your own time and according to your own will to all your people. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 1:3-6

“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:5-6 (NRSV)

We are chosen. We are saved. We are loved. We’ve done nothing to deserve any of this, and there’s nothing we can do to strengthen our claim on God, because we have no claim on God. Rather, God has claimed us.

Why? Why would God choose us for adoption as his children, as heirs with Christ? Because it’s God’s very nature. It was his will to freely bestow his glorious grace upon us, not because of who we are, but because of who he is.

Let us pray. Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ is the perfect Son, through whom you see us. Enable us to recognize your grace through him, that we may accept our place as your adopted children and heirs. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 84 

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84:10 (NRSV) 

In today’s consumer culture, the generally accepted assumption is that bigger is always better. We want bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger meal portions. We want more toys, more choices, and more autonomy to pursue our more and bigger pleasures.

But in the midst of all those choices, all those goods, and all that gluttony, we can begin to feel small, lost, and insignificant. We can be trapped by the sheer number of options, and have difficulty discerning what is truly best for us amid all the noise.

Our God is the Lord of all, and he knows what’s best. He calls out to us and offers us his salvation and his glory. The psalmist understood that nothing on earth can compare to the Lord. Without God we are in bondage, and a single day in his glory is far better than a thousand days spent in prison. Service to the Lord will result in a richer and more blessed life than service to our own sinful desires.

The Lord God is bigger than any other goal we could seek, and obedience to him provides more freedom than any other choice we could make.

Let us pray. Magnificent God, you offer us richness and blessings. Grant us the will to seek you above our own sinful desires, that we may experience the joy and the glory that come only from you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 9:23-28 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Hebrews 9:24 (NRSV) 

The work of Christ was for the sake of humankind, but he did not follow a human script or human rules to accomplish his work. Because he is fully human, we can see what he did and we can relate to him, but because he is also fully God we cannot comprehend the scope of his accomplishment.

We can only act upon what we have been told. God gave instructions on how to build his sanctuary, but that sanctuary is only a pale imitation of his true, heavenly dwelling place. God gave commands regarding blood sacrifices of atonement, but those sacrifices were only substitutions, and therefore of limited effect. Jesus the Christ, son of Mary, Son of God, was able to fulfill the human requirements in the heavenly realm, because only God the Son can truly comprehend God the Father. And because of his sacrifice, humanity and divinity have now been joined both on earth and in heaven.

Let us pray. Majestic God, your ways are incomprehensible to us. Grant us the humility to accept and give thanks to your Son, that while we may not understand all he has done for us, we may yet enjoy the grace he affords us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 3:10-23 

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV) 

God created us to live in community with each other, all of us members of the whole body of Christ, but our value is not limited to what we contribute to the whole. Each of us was lovingly and carefully crafted by the Lord of all, and called holy by the Holy One himself.

Some branches of Christianity devalue the worth of some members—often women—calling upon them to sacrifice themselves and their own well-being in the name of Christian duty or charity. Yet the Spirit of God dwells even in those members who are considered least worthy, and therefore their bodies, minds, and souls must be treated with the respect due to the dwelling place of God. We are called to service to the Lord of course, but we are to serve by valuing what God has given us and using the gifts he has graced us with to build up the whole body of Christ. Destroying ourselves to meet another person’s definition of Christian duty is not a part of that.

The Lord may call upon us to make sacrifices, but we can trust that God wastes no one, and God throws no one away. Those whom he does call to great sacrifice he will first grace with the gifts needed to be able to make that sacrifice willingly and joyfully, just as he graces us with the gifts to do our part willingly and joyfully, and always blessing us and honoring us as his holy temples.

Let us pray. Holy God, your Spirit dwells within each of us. Help us to honor your Spirit, that we may treat all your people with the love and the respect we each deserve. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by John 2:13-22 

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” John 2:13-15 (NRSV) 

Have you ever arrived at church, looking forward to worship, only to be confronted by requests for money to support this or that cause or ministry? Perhaps it was the youth group selling Christmas wreaths to raise money for their mission trip, or advertisements to purchase the latest book by the pastor or CD by the praise band, both conveniently available in the church bookstore. Even though the mission trip is a valid ministry, and both the book and the CD are probably helpful in proclaiming the gospel, by the time you sit down for worship you’re thinking about commerce rather than God.

In Jesus’ day it was expected for Jews from all over to travel to Jerusalem for Passover. It was also expected (biblically mandated) that ritual sacrifices would be made as part of the Passover observance. Of course, people traveling from great distances would have found it difficult to bring the animals they were to sacrifice along with them, so they would have needed to purchase them in Jerusalem. The money changers provided the valuable service of converting the travelers’ foreign currency into local currency, which they could then use to purchase the cattle, sheep, and doves necessary for their expected ritual sacrifices. With all of that available right there in the temple, the travelers were better able to focus on their Passover observance.

At least, that’s probably how the logic went. Except Jesus didn’t see it that way. He forcibly drove the animals, those selling them, and the money changers out of the temple. While he didn’t condemn them for what they were doing, he did condemn them for where they were doing it. A house of worship is a place to worship. Whatever commercial transactions might be helpful or even necessary for making that worship possible must be done at another time in another place. Does that make things a little more complicated? Possibly. But approaching the Lord God in prayer and devotion is not complicated, and shouldn’t be made so by the presence of financial expectations standing between the worshiper and the place of worship.

Let us pray. Holy Lord, you desire worship and not sacrifices. Help us to keep our worship of you unencumbered by logistical considerations, that none may ever believe that access to you is for sale. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 19:16-25 

“Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.” Exodus 19:17-18 (NRSV)

When we seek God, what do we expect to find? When we approach the holy Lord in prayer, how do we expect him to reveal his answer?

It seems as though the days of fiery mountains, pillars of smoke, and burning bushes are long past, and we must find God instead in the still, small voices, or else working in and through ordinary events and people. But despite his current tendency toward subtlety, this is the same Lord God who descended in fire upon Mount Sinai, spoke to Moses in thunder, and warned that anyone who was not properly consecrated and attempted to break through the barriers he had established so they could get a look at God would be killed. God has since removed many of the barriers between us and him, and we have been consecrated by his Son, but he is still not to be approached lightly. The God who cares enough to work through ordinary events and people, and who speaks to us in a still, small voice, is also the God who is capable of shaking mountains and revealing himself through fire, smoke, and thunder. The God who loved us enough to give his Son to die for us is the same God who conquered death itself.

Whatever we expect to find when we seek God, we can be certain that he is capable of accomplishing whatever he wills to accomplish.

Let us pray. God of power and might, you are indeed holy and your presence is awesome. Help us to approach you with honor and humility, that we might remember all your works and all that you are capable of as we bring our hopes and concerns to you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.