Lent 3, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 19 

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:7-10 (NRSV)

In much of the world today, following the law of the Lord is viewed—at best—as a hindrance to worldly success, or—at worst—as a miserable, dour, severe existence devoid of any pleasure or satisfaction. In the first case, pursuing justice, equity, charity, and mercy before one’s own personal interests tends to limit monetary gain and dilutes one’s personal power, since the needs of others are of higher concern than the bottom line and mercy is frequently equated with weakness. In the second case, many Christians throughout history have lost sight of God’s grace and become so concerned with personal purity and piety that they have failed to experience the joy of creation, and have sat in judgment over anyone who fell short of their definition of faithful.

But imagine a world in which you never have to worry about being cheated, or scammed, or taken advantage of. Imagine a world in which you could trust whomever you’re dealing with to be as concerned with your welfare as they are their own. Imagine a world in which all people are equal in inherent worth, where mistakes are forgiven, where the community looks out for each of its members, and where all actions are performed out of genuine love. This is what the world would look like if the law of the Lord were universally followed. This is the world that God created for us and desires for us.

Let us pray. Perfect and righteous God, you desire good things for all your people. Grant us the humility to seek your ways above our own, that our lives may reflect your love and your goodness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 19:1-9a 

“Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5-6 (NRSV) 

All the world, everyone and everything in it, belongs to God. It’s easy to forget that when so many people and systems seem to work against the will of the Lord, but the fact remains. God is everywhere, with everyone, engaged with everything.

But those who keep his covenant have a special relationship with God. First offered to the Israelites after they were rescued from their bondage in Egypt, the love of the Son later expanded that offer to those outside of Israel. Out of the whole earth, those who obey his voice and keep his covenant are the treasured possession of the Lord, a priestly kingdom and a holy nation, transcending geographical borders, cultural identity, political ideologies, even chronological time itself.

But such a relationship is not a cause for self-righteousness. It’s a call to action, a solemn responsibility. Being a priestly kingdom and a holy nation means serving as a light to the nations, an important vehicle through which God makes his love and his will known to everyone else. Our status as God’s treasured possession is not to set us over and against the rest of the world, but to demonstrate for all the glory and the honor that come with obeying God’s voice and keeping his covenant, a covenant that is still open to all who believe.

Let us pray. Transcendent God, you desire all the world to know you and obey your voice. Enable us to keep your covenant, that we may be a light to the nations and thus proclaim your holy name. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by John 12:36-43 

“Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in [Jesus]. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.” John 12:42-43 (NRSV) 

Many are the verses that speak of the remnant, the few, the faithful minority who live according to the Word of God. Those who are truly followers of Christ have always found themselves set against the dominant values of society, regardless of where or when they may have lived. Christians have always had to choose between the expediency of conforming to the prevailing culture, or the ostracism of conforming to the will of Christ.

The situation today is no different. The values of the world are in direct opposition to the values of Christ. Love, charity, forgiveness, and moderation must take the place of calculated posturing, self-aggrandizement, vendetta, and self-indulgence. Those who try to ‘be in the world but not of the world’ find themselves continually surrounded by those who will mock and scorn them, if not outright attack them. It’s tempting to take the path of expediency and avoid the rejection that comes with being a vocal follower of Christ. It’s tempting to enjoy the immediate validation of society rather than wait for the much greater validation of the Lord of all.

But that’s not how we’re called to live. We are told, “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.” How can a person believe in someone they’ve never even heard of? If Christians refuse to proclaim the good news of salvation by confessing Christ as Lord, how can others come to know him? God cares for us individually, but he also cares for us collectively, and as members of the body of Christ, we are to use the gifts God has given us to further his kingdom on earth. To do otherwise is to abandon to death and ignorance those whose approval we seek. For although God rejects the values of the dominant society, he still loves those individuals who comprise it.

Let us pray. Transcendent God, you are Lord at all times and in all places. Embolden us to confess your name, that all may come to believe in you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV) 

It’s not uncommon for nonbelievers to demand proof of God’s existence if they’re to consider religion a valid pursuit. Logically speaking, it’s much easier to prove a positive than a negative—therefore it’s up to Christians to prove there is a God, rather than for atheists to prove there isn’t.

It’s an unwinnable argument for Christians, because faith is by definition something that cannot be proven. But a life lived solely according to proven facts is an empty one indeed.

Can two adults who believe that they love each other acquire the necessary proof that their marriage will survive all hardships and remain intact? There’s so much evidence to the contrary. Can a couple prove that a child they conceive will be born healthy and grow to adulthood? So many children do not. Can anyone prove that living according to a set formula will ensure good health, happiness, and prosperity? There are so many factors working against those ambitions. For a person to live a life without faith, he or she must forgo all relationships, all risks, all attempts at fulfillment or engagement with the world, because too much cannot be proven and can only be taken on faith.

Yet for someone who has the assurance of things only hoped for and is convinced of the truth of things not yet seen or experienced, the world is a much less frightening place. There’s reason to believe that the unknown can become known, that the odds can be beaten, that love can and will prevail in the face of apathy and hate. For such was the life of Christ, who made the unknowable God known, saved humanity from the depths of its sin, and did so through a love of the highest order. Trying to live a fulfilling life in the absence of that guiding principle is too much of a stretch for me; I’d rather have faith.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you defy easy definitions and simple explanations. Grant us the faith to trust in your love, that we may fully engage in your creation and live the enriched lives you have called us to lead. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Genesis 21:1-7

“The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.” Genesis 21:1-2 (NRSV)

The Lord has promised us many things. He has promised to be with us, to deliver us, to save us. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to see how God can keep his promises—everything seems to be going against the will of the Lord, and it seems as though God is taking too long to come through.

When Abraham was seventy-five years old, and his wife Sarah was sixty-five, God called Abraham away from his father’s house. God promised to make of him a great nation, even though Abraham and Sarah were childless. Abraham followed where God led, but they remained childless, despite God’s restating his promise to Abraham several times. After eleven years of waiting for the Lord to deliver, Sarah and Abraham decided to take matters into their own hands, and tried to give Abraham offspring through Sarah’s slave-girl Hagar. Hagar did indeed bear Abraham a son, but this was not how God had intended for it to happen, so this was not the son through whom God would make Abraham a great nation. It wasn’t until after another fourteen years had passed, when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety—well beyond her childbearing years—that she conceived and bore Abraham the son God had promised twenty-five years earlier.

God has his own plans for us, and he keeps his own schedule. Even though it may appear that the odds against God are growing, God is able to make the impossible possible. Had Sarah conceived at a more traditional age, Abraham and Sarah may have believed that their child was responsible for his own fortunes. But by waiting until Sarah was well past menopause, there could be no doubt that this child was born as the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you have promised your people great things. Grant us the patience to wait on you, that we may recognize your activity within and beyond the natural unfolding of events. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by Mark 8:31-38 

“[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” Mark 8:34-35 (NRSV) 

What does it mean to ‘take up your cross’ and follow Jesus? Frequently this term is used to describe any misery or unpleasantness in our lives that we feel we have no choice in, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with proclaiming the gospel.

Yet Jesus meant it in a very specific way. He’d just finished telling his disciples that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious authorities, be killed, and then after three days rise again. Peter took Jesus aside and actually criticized and reprimanded him for his words.

Peter was trying to protect his friend Jesus, but perhaps more importantly, Peter was also trying to protect his own image of who Jesus was. Peter had just witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. He had just confessed him as the Messiah. And the Messiah of Peter’s understanding would never suffer rejection or death, even if it did mean he would rise again three days later. Peter expected his Messiah to act in a certain way, and when Jesus stated his intention to act contrary to Peter’s expectations, Peter tried to step in with authority and control, and put Jesus on the path that Peter had set for him.

Taking up your cross and following Jesus means giving up all claims to power and control over not only Jesus, but your own life. It’s widely understood that Christians are not to seek out glory for themselves, but we’re not to seek out misery and suffering, either. Rather, we are to seek Jesus, and follow where he leads, regardless of whether we agree with it or understand it, and regardless of the impact on our own lives. Jesus is Messiah, spreading his gospel throughout the world, and it is our calling to accompany and assist him on this mission.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you reach out to the undesirables of the world in the uncomfortable places. Grant us the courage to follow you faithfully, that we may not second-guess your mission and thus set ourselves against you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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 as the Christian way of life can demonstrate. But because Jesus is indeed the Messiah, he has the ability to transform our lives in extraordinary ways.

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’s 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 either extreme 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 the hand of God 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.