Easter 7, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Ezra 9:5-15

“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” Ezra 9:6 (NRSV)

It starts small. A little indulgence here, a little loosening of your self-control there. A little cover-up to avoid some minor unpleasantness, a little more indulgence because there are so few pleasures in life right now, and then, all of a sudden, you’re in deep. Your life seems to have spiraled out of control; your own behavior has hurt the people you love most and your closest relationships are strained or damaged. You can’t understand how things went so wrong, because you didn’t do anything terrible; it was just a little thing here and a little thing there, until you’ve become someone you simply don’t recognize anymore. But you know that you did it; you made your choices, these are the consequences. It’s your fault. How can you ever expect to be forgiven when you so willingly walked away from God and all that he has given you?

It is in those moments, when we’re in our deepest despair and loneliness, that God in Christ is closest to us. When we know our guilt, when we know our sin, and we know we don’t deserve any help at all, God in Christ gives us his grace. No matter what hurtful things we’ve done or how deeply in trouble we’ve managed to get ourselves, we’re never beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.

It is because we don’t deserve it that Christ came, and his grace is more than sufficient to cover your sins and encourage you to live the life you were meant to lead, a life that will cause you no shame or embarrassment. Because God will never be too ashamed or embarrassed to call you his own.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you know our guilt and our sin. Embrace us with your love, that we may live in the knowledge that you have wiped away our shame and removed our embarrassment. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 7, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Titus 1:1-9

“For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled.” Titus 1:7-8 (NRSV)

Leaders of the church, whether ordained or lay, are not perfect. Leaders of the church are saved by grace just like everyone else; neither their position nor their works brings them any closer to God than those they lead.

But as God’s stewards, leaders of the church are expected—both by those they lead and by God—to be of a certain character and moral uprightness. Sadly these expectations are often not met, and the resulting damage to the body of Christ has been devastating.

How many Christians have been harmed—physically, emotionally, or spiritually—by a church leader? And with each incident numerous people are driven away from the good news of Jesus Christ by the very people who are supposed to be proclaiming the transformative power of his grace with their words and actions, with their very lives.

A position of leadership within the body of Christ is a privilege, not a right. All Christians must engage in prayerful discernment when choosing a leader, and all Christians must hold their leaders as well as themselves and each other accountable. We are all sinners, saved by grace, and we all must forgive as we have been forgiven. We must recognize that no one is going to be everything that the passage above lists at all times, and we must allow our leaders their humanity and forgive them when they stumble. But forgiveness for a stumble is not the same as excusing harmful behavior, and we must all be willing to acknowledge that many people, though good and faithful Christians, lack the specific gifts necessary to be good leaders.

Let us pray. God of mercy, you have entrusted your good creation to us even though we are sinful beings. Grant us the discernment to appoint leaders in your church who will further its mission, that we may see by their example not only how to live faithfully, but how to recognize our own need for forgiveness and accept your grace with humility. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 7, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 1:3-11

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)

Have you ever had one of those days when it feels like nothing you do is right? No matter how hard you try nothing works out the way it’s supposed to, and you begin to question why you’re bothering to try so hard, and you begin to doubt your own abilities. You may even question your own self-worth.

You have worth. You have value. Not one of us is perfect, and most of us aren’t anywhere close to perfection. But we don’t need to be perfect or close to perfection for God to cherish us; he called us as we were, where we were, with all our faults and shortcomings firmly intact. And when he called us, he enabled us to take the first tiny steps toward him, in response to his call. He gave us the ability to become the people he created us to be, but most of us have a long way to go before we achieve that goal.

God has begun a good work in you, and you are a work in progress. There will be days when you take a few more steps closer to his ideal of you; there will be days when it’s all you can do to stand firm where you are. And there will be days when you lose ground. But no matter what day it happens to be, know that God has not given up on you or abandoned you. His love for you is perfect, and he will complete the good work he’s begun in you. Even if it takes a while.

Let us pray. God of perfection, we are a long way away from fulfilling your will for us. Encourage us in our journeys, that we may remain committed to following your path no matter what discouragements we may suffer. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

Inspired by 1 John 5:9-13

“And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 1 John 5:11 (NRSV)

We know that God has called us to be witnesses, to go out and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world. But how? It seems simple enough, until you sit down and think about what you’re going to say. How do you articulate the gospel to someone who isn’t familiar with the bible? What if you’re not fully confident in your own ability to understand the bible? What if you’re shy, and you just don’t know how to approach people? Perhaps it would be better if this whole evangelism thing was left to someone else.

None of us has that luxury, because we’re all called to be witnesses. We’re all called to be evangelists. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

We don’t have to be biblical scholars or systematic theologians in order to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. We don’t have to have outgoing personalities. All we have to do is live the lives of grace we have in Christ Jesus, confident of God’s love for us. And when someone sees the love of God reflected in our lives and asks us what it is that they’re seeing, we don’t have to instruct them in the faith; all we have to do is say, ‘Come and see,’ and then invite them into the fellowship of believers. Once we’ve invited them in, we’ve engaged the whole body of Christ to assist us in our witness.

Our lives are in Christ, and with our lives we testify to Christ. Fulfilling our call as witnesses doesn’t have to be any more difficult than that.

Let us pray. God of truth, you give us eternal life in your Son. Help us to live our lives in such a way as to testify to your love, that we may be your witnesses in all that we say and do. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 7, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 34:1-7

“Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.” Deuteronomy 34:7 (NRSV)

Moses died at the Lord’s command, having seen the promised land with his own eyes but unable to cross into it. One might argue that it was unfair of God to command his death after all that Moses had done for the people, while Moses still had life and vigor left in him despite his many years. In one sense, it was unfair.

However God had called Moses for a purpose, and Moses fulfilled that purpose admirably. The people of Israel had followed Moses out of slavery in Egypt, and Moses had shepherded them through the wilderness for a generation. The people of Israel were about to enter a new phase in their lives and their history, and it was time to leave the wilderness behind them. And for their new challenges, God chose for them a new leader. God was not discarding Moses for a better model; he was demonstrating for the people that their salvation was from God, not from Moses, and that God’s leadership transcended any mortal man.

Moses’ life on earth ended after one hundred and twenty years—a span of life nearly unheard of these days. He was able to see that he had accomplished what God had called him to do, and he was able to commission Joshua as his successor. And he was called home to God in his old age but without the challenges and frustrations that old age visits upon most of us. May we all be so blessed to die under such circumstances!

Let us pray. God of the living, in you there is no death. Help us to live as faithfully as Moses, that when our earthly lives end we may know that we fulfilled the purpose for which you’d created us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 7, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 24:15-18

“Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” Exodus 24:17-18 (NRSV)

What would it take for you to willingly walk into what appeared to be your certain death? What would compel you to climb a mountain and enter into what you saw as a devouring fire?

Moses did it because he was heeding the word of the Lord. God called to him from the cloud on the mountain and bid him to come. Moses had seen how God had rescued his people from Egypt, allowed them to cross the waters of the Red Sea, and gave them the laws that would ensure a harmonious community if they followed them. Moses knew that his life and his future were in the hands of the Lord, and he trusted the Lord when he was called into the fire. And sure enough, the cloud that seemed to be a devouring fire did not devour him, and he was in the presence of the Lord for many days, receiving instruction about the Lord.

It’s unlikely that most of us will be called into a scene that dramatic, however God still calls us into situations that appear to us to be dangerous, painful, or even foolhardy. But God has saved us from our sinful selves, and he has our lives and our futures in his hands. We can trust that while our own eyes may deceive us, our God never will.

Let us pray. Almighty God, your majesty is frightening to us. Help us to trust in your mercy and your love, that we may obey when you call us to step beyond what is comfortable. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Ascension of Our Lord, Year B

Inspired by Acts 1:1-11

“‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” Acts 1:8-11 (NRSV)

We wait expectantly for the return of our Lord. But while we wait, we have work to do.

Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he ascended into heaven were that they were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And he didn’t mean that in a passive sense. Jesus had no sooner ascended when two heavenly beings appeared and chided the disciples into action. “Don’t just stand here looking up at heaven,” they said. “Get to work! Go, be his witnesses, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world!”

When we gather together for worship, it is so we can be fed, nourished, and sustained for our work in the world. We are not called to occasionally get together so we can look up to heaven and be comforted; the Holy Spirit has come upon us, and we are called to bring the comfort of the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world.

Let us pray. Living God, your Spirit is with us. Wake us from our daydreaming about the world to come and inspire us to proclaim your good news to the world, that we may all experience your comfort here and now. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 6, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 11:18-20

“You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.” Deuteronomy 11:18 (NRSV)

Everyone lives by some guiding principles: fundamental beliefs that inform their priorities, their relationships, and their entire approach to life and how best to live it. We all have them, but many of us couldn’t articulate what they are if we tried to.

If you’re not sure what your guiding principles are, look at the choices you make in your life. Do you say you value family, but put more time and energy into work? Do you talk about the importance of living within your means? Do your bank and credit card statements agree? Take a step back and look critically at how you spend your time and your money; this will help you see what really guides your heart and your soul.

Or think about this. How would your closest friend describe you to someone you’ve never met? How would a casual acquaintance describe you? How about your worst enemy? How other people see you is a helpful clue, because they see the persona you choose to project to the world. They see your guiding principle as though it were an emblem on your forehead.

If you don’t like what you see, it’s not too late to change it. God loved us so much that he gave us his only Son, and because of that love we live in a perpetual state of grace. Keep the words of the Lord in your heart and in your soul, and let the truth of his love and grace guide your hand and be on display for all the world to see.

Let us pray. Gracious God, you have gifted us with your Word. Let your Word infuse our entire beings, that all we encounter may see your grace reflected in us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 6, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 11:1-17

“You shall love the LORD your God, therefore, and keep his charge, his decrees, his ordinances, and his commandments always. Remember today that it was not your children (who have not known or seen the discipline of the LORD your God), but it is you who must acknowledge his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm.” Deuteronomy 11:1-2 (NRSV)

The world turns on its axis, the sun rises and sets, rises and sets; the spring turns into summer, the summer into autumn, the autumn into winter, and the winter gives way to spring again. The years pass, the children replace their elders, and generations go by as the world continues to turn on its axis, day by day, life by life.

We’re so busy living our own lives and dealing with our own immediate problems that we often lose sight of the big picture. We try so hard to let our children just be children, and do everything we can to give them happy, enriching lives that we forget to train them in the ways they should go. The torch is ours to carry now; it was handed to us by our parents, and we will pass it on to our children in the future. What we do or don’t teach them now will impact not only how they live their own lives, but how they will shape the world they live in. Because shape it they will, whether they are prepared to or not.

You are a steward of this world, and as part of your stewardship it is your responsibility to help teach the younger generation how to be good stewards. God created this world long ago and entrusted it to humanity. Others cared for it long before you were born, and others will care for it long after you’re gone. Some have done well; some have caused harm. What will you do, and how do you want those who follow you to treat what you have done?

Let us pray. Eternal God, you created the world, you sustain it with your Spirit, and you’ve entrusted it to us. Help us to teach our children your ways and share with them what we know and have witnessed, that they may grow to be good stewards of your creation. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 6, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 7:1-11

“[T]he LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people; his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 7:6b-8 (NRSV)

From the very beginning, our relationship with God has been based entirely on his love and faithfulness. We have never done anything to earn or deserve his favor. He owes us nothing; we owe him everything.

That’s a very hard concept for many of us. We don’t like the idea of being indebted to another for anything. We want to earn what we have, or find some way to insist that we’re entitled to what we’re given. Everything is rightfully ours, and it could never be any other way. Even in matters of faith, we often pride ourselves on our piety or good works, and believe that our superior morality will make God have to let us into heaven, even though we’d never actually come out and say that.

But while we were a small people, God loved us. When we were helpless and enslaved, God rescued and delivered us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Our love and faithfulness will falter at times, but God’s never will. Thanks be to God that his grace is based on his faithfulness, and not ours.

Let us pray. God of faithfulness, you are the source of all life, all love, and all faith. Help us to accept your grace, that we may live by faith and not by works. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.