Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 1:3-14

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Ephesians 1:7-8a (NRSV)

In most of our interpersonal relationships, we have to carefully choose how much and which aspects of our true selves we reveal. If we’re very lucky, we might have a few family members or perhaps a very close friend who will accept us in our entirety, faults and all, but such deep relationships are rare. Instead, we work hard to cultivate an image, choosing which behaviors will bolster that image in order to receive the treatment we desire. Sometimes we work so hard at building and projecting our false selves that we try to reject those parts of our true selves that don’t fit the image. We deny their existence, afraid that if they were revealed we would be rejected, convinced that the privileges we enjoy are based solely the images of perfection we project.

But God knows we’re not perfect. The mercy he shows us is based on the riches of his grace, not the quality of our deception. Jesus looks past our projected images, examines our woundedness, and tends us with his love. In Christ we are free to be who we truly are, confident that no part of ourselves will be rejected. His grace transforms our brokenness into strength, and his love embraces us sinners and names us saints.

Let us pray. Compassionate Lord, you took our brokenness upon yourself and transformed it into glory. Grant us the courage to approach you with openness and truth, that we may know the absolute acceptance and love that your grace offers. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 3, Year B

Inspired by James 4:1-10

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” James 4:1-2a (NRSV)

There is a great deal of pain and suffering in the world. Some of it is caused by so-called ‘acts of God,’ i.e. natural disasters that strike anywhere anytime, completely independent of any human activity. But much more of it is brought on by us. Wars are fought because of greed, hunger for power and conquest, or hatred. Famine occurs both because of weather conditions and because of corruption in government and agricultural commerce. Disease claims the lives of millions because of inequity in health care and prevention. Broken relationships damage people because of unrealistic expectations or selfishness. And the list goes on.

While it is common to blame God for much of the suffering in the world, all God is doing is leaving us to face the consequences of our own actions. God isn’t doing this to us; we’re doing it to ourselves. The truth is we are all in community together, all the people of the world, and until we realize that a crime against any other person is a crime against all people, including ourselves, then we will continue to live in a world burdened with unnecessary pain and suffering.

But turning to God, recognizing that all we have is a gift from God, learning to be content with what we have, and figuring out how to live within our own resources, can create a world in which all people are treated equitably, and the blessings of God are shared abundantly with all his people. Trade will be voluntary and mutually beneficial, independence and sovereignty will be respected, and all people everywhere will have dignity. God has given us the tools and the resources to build such a society; all we have to do is use them wisely.

Let us pray. God of abundance, you have provided your people with all we need. Help us to share what we have, that none may know want, and all may know your gracious love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 2, Year B

Inspired by James 3:13-18

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” James 3:17 (NRSV)

To read the news today, one might believe that one must choose between religion and science, that religious faith and the pursuit of knowledge are inherently contradictory and incompatible.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Lord has graced us with intelligence and curiosity, and striving to better understand the properties and mechanics of ourselves and the world around us is in no way a challenge to the One who created us. However, how we use that knowledge defines whether we are seeking wisdom or self-aggrandizement. Knowledge that doesn’t recognize its limits, or that is used to cause harm, is contrary to God’s purposes. Wisdom, however, acknowledges its limits and uses knowledge to improve the human condition and provide for better stewardship of the world. Wisdom—the proper use and understanding of knowledge—is itself a gift from God.

Let us pray. Knowing God, you have graced us with a curious and discerning mind. Grant us the humility to recognize the limits of our knowledge and what it can do, that we may live faithful lives seeking understanding of your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Name of Jesus, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 2:5-11

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Philippians 2:5-6 (NRSV)

Imago Dei. Image of God. According to Genesis, humanity was created in the very image of God, and given dominion over the earth and everything in it. And things went downhill from there.

We tend to lose sight of the fact that we too are creatures, and that, though created in the image of God, we are not actually God, or even gods. We become drunk on our own power, abilities, and talents, and use the things and the people of the earth to benefit ourselves. It was into this world that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fully human, and therefore, like us, was the image of God. But unlike us, Jesus was also fully divine, and therefore truly was God, equal in every way to the one who created us and gave us what we have. But he did not use that status for his own gain; he did not come to take the world that he’d created and put it back under his own dominion, and then punish those who had abused his creation so grievously. He came to save us, to restore us to the glory he’d wanted for us from the beginning, and to demonstrate for us how we can live human life fully, as human life is intended to be lived, as Jesus lived it.

And the starting point for that is to recognize the limits of our authority, and to reflect the image of God in our lives, without trying to be God ourselves.

Let us pray. Creator God, you created us in your image. Enable us to reflect your glory, that we may be good stewards of the world you have given us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 31, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 148

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.” Psalm 148:11-13 (NRSV)

Throughout human history, society has adhered to a hierarchy. The specific details of the hierarchy have differed depending on culture, region, and chronology, but there have always been those at the top, those in the middle, and those at the bottom (not to mention countless levels in between).

The hierarchy of creation is different. God is above all, and everyone else is below. It doesn’t matter if, in our given society, we’re considered at the top, in the middle, or on the bottom; we’re all equally reliant on the grace of God, and we’re all equally beloved by God. Wealth, political influence, and social standing have no advantage when it comes to relationship with the Lord; he alone is Lord, and he alone is deserving of our praise.

Let us pray. Exalted Lord, you have created us as your people, and you are deserving of our praise. Help us to see our fellow creatures as you see us, equally deserving of love, that we may treat each other as sisters and brothers in you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 30, Year B

Inspired by Proverbs 9:1-12

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10 (NRSV)

Want to live a good, fulfilling life? Want to know how to prioritize your values and make wise decisions? The self-help section in your local bookstore is full of advice on just how to do that, much of it contradictory.

In this age of relativism, it is difficult to know how best to order our lives. But the wisdom of the bible has stood for ages. Turning to the One who created us, who redeemed us, who sustains us, is a good grounding for everything else in our lives. Will we make mistakes? Certainly. But the Lord our God will forgive us our mistakes, and, if we keep our focus on him and his will, will guide us in the way of truth, love, and peace. What better foundation could we build our lives upon than that?

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you alone know what is right. Turn our hearts and minds towards you, that we may walk in your ways and live faithfully in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 29, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 12:46-50

“And pointing to his disciples, [Jesus] said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:49-50 (NRSV)

Many children visualize God as an elderly man with white hair and a long white beard, wearing flowing white robes and sitting on a cloud in heaven, far above the earth. Many of those children grow into adults holding onto that same image, and believe that God and heaven are just so far away from day to day life. They find themselves unable to relate to such a distant God.

But God became flesh and was born a man. Jesus lived on earth, facing many of the struggles that we ourselves continue to face today. Jesus celebrated with friends, wept over lost loved ones, suffered rejection and betrayal, tried to find balance between taking care of others and taking care of himself, and struggled with obeying the harder obligations of following God. In short, Jesus is someone we can relate to. Even though he is fully God, he is also fully human, and is thus the bridge between us and the heavenly Father. While we may struggle to relate to some divine being sitting up on a cloud, that divine being has related to us on our level, in our lives, and has adopted us into his own family.

Let us pray. Father God, you provided us a way to know the unknowable. Help us to obey your will, that we may be heirs with Christ. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas, Year B

Inspired by Luke 22:22-40

“‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’” Luke 22:31-34 (NRSV)

In our faith lives, we sometimes make bold statements about the depth of our commitment to Christ’s ministry on earth. Yet when it comes time to follow through, we find that we lack the courage to sacrifice all we said we would. The price seems too high, the consequences too severe, and we back away from our commitment, denying Christ just as Peter did.

But just as he knew Peter’s weaknesses, Jesus knows our weaknesses as well. Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for his inevitable denial, but rather assured him of his confidence that Peter would turn back to the way he should go, and instructed him to strengthen his brothers as they struggled under the weight of their own commitments to Christ.

Discipleship is not easy, and you will occasionally fail to do all you’ve committed to do. But you are a disciple of the Lord of mercy and compassion, and his grace allows you to turn back to him, receive his forgiveness, and proclaim the good news of his love.

Let us pray. Lord of mercy and compassion, you accept what we have to offer even though it is far short of what you command. Grant us the humility to recognize our own failures, that we may return to you with confidence in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 27, Year B

Inspired by 1 John 1:1-9

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9 (NRSV)

We always want to think the best of ourselves. We justify our questionable or even bad behaviors, and we excuse or ignore shortcomings in the name of self-esteem.

When we do that, we’re projecting a false image of who we are to the world, and we often try to believe it ourselves. But it’s a lie, and we cannot maintain it. Eventually we begin to feel like a fraud, and our self-esteem suffers even more.

One of the benefits of salvation is being freed from living a lie. It’s OK to admit to our shortcomings. It’s even OK to call them sins, because we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us; God’s love is capable of forgiving us our sins and putting us in right relationship with him. And being in right relationship with God can bring out the best in us in ways that projecting false images can never even come close to.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you see us as we truly are, and you love us as we truly are. Enable us to recognize and confess our sins, that we may receive your forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 26, Year B

Inspired by Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

“The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” Jeremiah 26:7-8 (NRSV)

God sent Jeremiah with a message for those who worshiped in the house of the Lord. They were, by and large, very comfortable, and they expected their worship experience to make them feel good about themselves and their lives, to affirm them in what they were doing. Jeremiah’s message, however, was that they must repent and turn from their evil ways. Not what they’d wanted to hear, and they reacted badly to it.

I don’t know that many people who worship in the house of the Lord today are really all that different. Many want to go and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” even—and especially—if they’re not really doing anything to warrant such affirmation. But if we’re not willing to honestly deal with the requirements of discipleship, and hear with humility that we’re getting too comfortable in our favored status as ‘saved,’ then we’re not worshiping the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Salvation is not dependent on works, but if our salvation results in no change in our habits, priorities, or lives, then what have we been saved from? Salvation is not ultimately about where we go when we die, but how we’re freed to live here and now. We can live free from bondage to the rat race, of never measuring up to artificial standards of ‘success,’ of never being able to fill the emptiness of our self-serving lives. But in order to do that we must be willing to focus on God first, and prioritize everything else under him and his will. Refusing to hear his will means we’re shutting ourselves away from the salvation he’s so freely offered, and we’re worshiping not God, but our own agendas.

Let us pray. God of salvation, your will for us is benevolent, and your ways are just. Grant us the humility to recognize that while we are saved by your grace, we are yet sinners in need of your guidance, that we may turn away from our own agendas and towards your love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.