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.

Lent 1, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Peter 3:8-18a 

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV) 

What should a Christian community look like? It has nothing to do with strict adherence to a well-defined and detailed moral code. It has nothing to do with judgment or condemnation. And it has nothing to do with litmus tests for piety or specific spiritual gifts. A Christian community should be where each and every member looks at every other member with love, tenderness, humility, sympathy, and in unity of spirit.

So what does that look like? Let’s say somebody disagrees with some established norms of behavior or opinion. In most situations today that person would be dismissed as wrong or misguided (at best) or ostracized, threatened, or attacked (at worst). But what if the community instead chose to listen to this person and seek to understand why they disagreed. It may be that this person has the eyes to see some injustice inherent in the current practices that have been so normalized as to become invisible. Or it may be that this person simply emphasizes a different aspect of a situation, which changes the entire equation. It may also be that this person genuinely is wrong or misguided, but they’re still a child of God, and thus deserving of love and respect.

Most of our Christian communities fall short of this ideal. But as Christians in community with one another, this is our calling. One person attempting to live according to these principles may encourage more to do so, and we may begin to transform our communities into places of safety and grace that can serve as beacons of hope to the world.

Let us pray. God of unity, you have called many different people to you. Grant us the love and humility to accept all your children and their differences as you have, that we may truly be the whole body of Christ in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 2:1-10 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NRSV) 

Much is made about what good Christians must do in order to be good Christians. To a point, this is a helpful consideration, as we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which is the Christian way of life. But there’s a difference between a way of life and a reason for life. And our reason for the Christian life is God’s unearned gift of grace.

Through no merit of our own, God sent his only Son to die for us. Salvation comes through the grace of Christ. Period. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve that grace. Being a ‘good’ Christian is not what determines our standing before God. Rather, our standing before God determines how we might live our lives.

In healthy human relationships, a person does something pleasing for another person not to compel greater favor or more love, but simply to make that person happy. Such is the way Christians are to approach good works. We don’t do them in order to manipulate God into loving us and granting us salvation; God already loves us and has granted us salvation. It’s in response to that love and salvation that we may live freely for one another, being the people God created us to be, not worrying if what we do is ‘good’ enough, and knowing that God loved us first. Living the Christian way of life is not the price of admission, but is itself part of the reward.

Let us pray. Gracious God, you desire good things for your people. Help us to live in response to your grace, that we may live joyful and peaceful lives, full of the all-encompassing love that comes from you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by Genesis 9:8-17 

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:16 (NRSV) 

As we go about our ordinary days, surrounded by ordinary people and ordinary things, it’s easy to lose sight of the extraordinary God who walks with us. We long to see something extraordinary that reminds us of his presence.

God certainly can and does use the extraordinary to bring our focus back to him, but much more often he uses the ordinary to remind us that he is with us even at the most mundane times. Every time we encounter water, we are reminded that we have died, been buried, and have risen with Christ through baptism. Every time we encounter the ordinary elements of a basic meal—bread or wine—we are reminded that the God of all became man and gave his body and his blood for us. Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, we are reminded that God has promised all the creatures of the earth to never again destroy the earth with floodwaters.

And God himself is reminded of his promises by these same elements—water, bread, wine, a rainbow. These are all earthly elements, and the Lord God walks with us on earth, in our earthly lives, and sees these reminders with us. And it’s his presence with us that makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you have promised us many things, and given us many signs to accompany those promises. Help us to recognize those signs, that we may trust in your faithfulness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 9:2-13 

“And as [Jesus] sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’” Matthew 9:10-12 (NRSV) 

It’s good to remain in community with other believers so you might encourage one another and build one another up in the faith. But we’re not called to form exclusive clubs with strict membership requirements. Jesus didn’t demand people change their lives or confess statements of faith before he dined or associated with them. It didn’t matter who you were—a disciple, a tax collector, a Pharisee, a prostitute—Jesus was pleased to have you with him and treated you with dignity and respect. You didn’t even have to come to him first, showing an interest in him or a desire to change your ways. This dinner party began with Jesus walking along and seeing Matthew the tax collector sitting in his tax booth, minding his own (likely exploitative) business. With no sign of interest from Matthew at all, Jesus approached him and called him to follow. No conditions that he must fulfill first, no threats of what would happen to his soul if he didn’t; just the invitation, “Follow me.” And Matthew followed, and was invited to dinner.

We are to take strength and encouragement from other believers, but we are also called to go out into the world and treat everyone, even the worst sinners we can imagine, with dignity and respect, no strings attached. Experiences of grace inspire conversion, not threats or conditions.

Let us pray. God of kindness, you created every human being in your image. Teach us to show all your children the dignity and respect they deserve, that all may experience your love and grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Daniel 9:15-25a 

“Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.” Daniel 9:18 (NRSV) 

When you pray, do you pray with expectation that your prayer will be answered? Such expectation is appropriate, but only when it flows from humility. The truth is that God owes us nothing. We have done nothing to deserve his favor. We can never be good enough, holy enough, pious enough, or zealous enough to deserve his patronage. We have no right to demand anything, or to expect anything from God in return for anything we have done. There is no quid pro quo, there is no mutually beneficial bargain that can be struck.

Yet we can still pray with expectation. Not because of the merit of our prayer or of the one who prays it, but because of the merit of the one to whom we are praying. God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. For our sake he sent his only Son to die for us, and for his sake forgives us all our sins. We did nothing to deserve that, and can do nothing to repay that. But we can live forgiven and redeemed lives, because that redemption is based not on the worth of those who receive it, but on the worth of the one who gives it.

Let us pray. Merciful Lord, you have redeemed us for your own sake and for the sake of your Son. Grant us the humility to recognize the source of our salvation, that we may proclaim a gospel of abundant grace to all your people. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Daniel 9:1-14 

“Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, ‘Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.’” Daniel 9:4-6 (NRSV)

Daniel was a good and righteous man, who always remained faithful to the Lord his God. There is no account in the bible of him sinning, acting wickedly, turning aside from God’s commandments, or ignoring God’s word.

Yet when he prayed, he identified himself with all the people of Judah and their sins. He didn’t put himself in a position of judgment over his fellow citizens and try to intercede on the grounds of his own righteousness; he confessed “We have sinned and done wrong…We have not listened to your servants the prophets.” Daniel was of Judah, and their sins were his sins. Their fate was his fate. Rather than condemn them for their sins or try to distance himself from them, he simply prayed for mercy.

Are we as charitable to our communities as Daniel was to his? When we point out the ways in which our society has failed to live up to God’s expectations, do we do so as participants in that society, or as observers?

God created each of us individually, but we are all part of the whole body of Christ. What happens to one of us affects us all. Not one of us is truly righteous by our own merit, but we are all saved by grace through faith in Christ. Even when our neighbors don’t recognize Christ as their savior, or claim to follow Christ but act contrary to his example, we simply do not have the option of writing them off and distancing ourselves from them; they are God’s beloved children, and we’re all in this world together.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you sent your Son to identify with us and to die for us, even as we were sinning against you. Enable us to recognize this community that you have created, that we may not push others further from an experience of your grace, but rather help to bring in those who have gone astray. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Ash Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 58:1-12 

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:9b-10 (NRSV) 

The world is a very troubled place. Governments do not act in the best interests of their citizens, and individuals posture and position for their own advantage because they perceive that no one else will advocate for their wellbeing. Those who don’t or can’t engage in such posturing are neglected, forgotten, or exploited. All in all, it seems as though many are living in dark and gloomy times.

In response to these gloomy times, some are calling for a return to the Lord and his ways. However, such calls are often accompanied by finger pointing, blame, condemnation, and carefully selected morality passages from the bible. Looking at the bible as a whole, the overriding priority of God is justice and love. God has provided enough food to feed every person in the world; it’s our selfishness and corruption that cause some to starve. God has provided enough resources for all to live healthy, sustainable lives, but it’s our greed in wanting to maximize our own profits that results in others not being able to earn enough to live from their own hard work.

God carefully and lovingly created each and every one of us to live in community with him and with each other. Enslaving each other, blaming each other for the troubles of the world, and speaking evil of God’s beloved children are what create the darkness and gloom we’re fighting against. Treating one another with dignity and respect, and looking out for the wellbeing of others rather than just ourselves, is how we return to the Lord and his ways. And then we will begin to emerge from these dark and gloomy times, as the Lord will continue to guide us. All we have to do is follow.

Let us pray. God of justice, you have created a world of abundance. Help us to satisfy our needs rather than our wants, that none may know hunger or depravity. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Timothy 3:14-16 

“Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV) 

Everything you need to know about the history of Christianity is summed up in this single statement from the first letter of Timothy. God himself was revealed in the human being known as Jesus of Nazareth. It was unheard of for the God of all creation to lower himself down to our state of existence, yet out of love he did it. Jesus lived a sinless life in perfect unity with God the Father, and was proven guiltless by the Spirit. He was acknowledged by and aided in his mission by heavenly beings. The God of Israel was preached and proclaimed by nations other than Israel, and people outside the covenant all over the world have come to believe in salvation by his grace. And the person of Jesus was received into the godhead in glory, forever bringing an element of humanity into divinity, and connecting human beings with their loving Creator in the most intimate of ways.

Without any doubt, the mystery of how this all happened is great. But we don’t need to understand how it happened. We only need to know that it happened, and why. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loved us enough to lower himself for us, suffer on our behalf, and ensure our living in active relationship with him throughout eternity, blessed by his love and grace. How is a mystery, but it is what it is, and thanks be to God for that.

Let us pray. Mysterious God, your ways are hidden from us. Grant us a spirit of acceptance, that we may joyfully and gratefully live in the mystery that is you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.