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.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Inspired by John 15:9-17

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 (NRSV)

Countless couples choose this verse to be read at their weddings, appreciating the focus on love and feeling that it is appropriate for this most romantic of days.

But this verse is not about romantic love; it is about sacrificial love of the highest order. In the very next verse Jesus explains that such love involves laying down one’s own life for another, just as he is about to lay down his life for the salvation of the world. For while love can result in warm feelings, contentment, and desire, love is not a feeling but an action. And even in the absence of those warm feelings love remains, and the one who loves must still be willing to sacrifice him- or herself for the sake of the one who is loved.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. People are not capable of such a love on their own; people want what they want when they want it. People want their own way, and frequently walk away from a relationship when the warm feelings, contentment, and desire fade. Relationships are messy. But Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. We have seen such love; we are the beneficiaries of such love. And when we truly understand that such love is possible with the help of God, couples can do worse than to base their marriage on this commandment.

Let us pray. God of love, you commanded us to love one another as you loved us. Give us the strength to be so loving, that others may continue to grow and live in your divine grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 6, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Deuteronomy 32:44-47

“This is no trifling matter for you, but rather your very life; through it you may live long in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 32:47 (NRSV)

How seriously do you take the words of God? Even those of us who try to remain steadfast in our faith and live accordingly, how seriously do we really take his laws and his commandments, his promises and his warnings?

God knows when we will stray from him and be disobedient, but his foreknowledge does not mean we are predestined to follow that path. Just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land after wandering in the desert for forty years, God told them through Moses that they would abandon the Lord their God and worship foreign idols. And God told them what would happen to them if they did that. His warning was so that they would remain diligent in observing his words, teaching them to their children so that generations to come would be faithful to the Lord, and not be taken in by those foreign idols. The word of the Lord was not simply a suggestion, but an explicit commandment for how to live faithfully in their new home. Failure to live faithfully carried with it dire consequences, so obedience to the law of the Lord was quite literally a matter of life or death for many of their progeny.

Following the law of the Lord is in many ways easier today. We no longer need to follow strict dietary or agricultural laws; we are called to love one another as Christ loved us, seeking justice and mercy for all in the world, and trusting in the grace and the love of the Lord our God. Failure to do that does carry dire consequences—the natural consequences of living in a world without selfless love, without justice, and without mercy. This is no trifling matter; it is your very life.

Let us pray. God of justice, your will is for us to live according to your laws. Inspire us to live according to the love, grace, mercy, and justice you desire for all your people, that we may live lives pleasing to you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 6, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 42:5-9

“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it.” Isaiah 42:5 (NRSV)

In these days of constant noise and twenty-four hour news and entertainment, God can seem like a distant, abstract concept. The bible was written so long ago and within a context so different from our own, we can wonder why we should bother paying attention to the words of a seemingly absent God from a world long gone.

But God is not absent, and his world is not gone. Cultures and societies have changed beyond recognition, but this world, our world, is still his world. The Lord God created the heavens and maintains the position of the stars and planets to this day. He created the earth and continually recreates and renews it, bringing forth new life in vegetation, in the wild, and in humanity. Every person who lives on the earth does so with the breath of life given by God Almighty. No one lives apart from God or his creation, and God renews and sustains his creation on a daily basis.

This is the same God whose story we know through ancient texts, and who revealed his will through his prophets and through his Son Jesus Christ. The world has changed, but it’s still God’s world, and neither God nor his will have changed. When the God of all life gives his word, it’s worth listening and paying attention to.

Let us pray. God of all ages, all life exists because of you. Turn our hearts toward you, that we may hear your word over all the competing noise in our world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 6, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 10:1-34

“The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’” Acts 10:15 (NRSV)

We have strong opinions about what is right or acceptable, and what is not. Some of those opinions are based on our own experiences, some are based on conventional wisdom, some are based on long-standing traditions. Some are based on ignorance or prejudice. However those opinions came to be formed, we hold onto them wholeheartedly, and they help to inform our lives and our interactions with others.

But they can also hinder us from doing God’s work in the world. If we understand something or someone to be wrong or unacceptable, we can convince ourselves that God sees them the same way. We close ourselves off to the possibility that God might be calling us to minister to this person—or be ministered to by this person—because they make choices that we don’t agree with or live according to values that we reject.

All our judgments are based on worldly observations, but God’s love transcends the world. Our vision is limited by worldly experiences, but God’s vision is limitless. Our opinions are based on cultural context, but God transcends culture. And where we might see a barrier to God’s holiness, God may see an opportunity for growth and sacrificial love.

Let us pray. Transcendent God, your ways are mysterious to us. Enable us to be open to your call, that we may show your love to all your people. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 5, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by John 14:18-31

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26 (NRSV)

Some people question why they should follow a religion based on writings that were first penned nearly two thousand years ago. Recognizing that those documents—the various letters and narratives that Christians call the New Testament of the bible—were written by specific people in a specific context for a specific purpose, they wonder what relevance the ideas of men who lived in the Middle East nearly two millennia ago could possibly have today.

If Christianity were based on the bible, then that would be a valid question. But the bible did not come first; Christianity did. The community of believers of Jesus Christ formed around his life and ministry, and grew from there. The writings we call the New Testament were not the basis for this community or for the faith that they shared, but a product of it.

The God we worship is triune: three persons, one God. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Son was Jesus Christ, sent by God the Father to reveal the nature of God to humanity. God the Father also sent God the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is with us to this day, encouraging us, inspiring us, reminding us of all that the Son taught us so long ago. For even though God the Son came into the world at a specific point in time in a specific geographical location and in a specific cultural context, his message of love and salvation are for all people at all times and in all places. It is the continuing work of the Spirit that keeps our faith in him alive, active, and relevant.

Let us pray. Triune God, your very being is relationship and love. Help us to recognize your Spirit working in our lives, that we may live in the current reality of the grace and salvation you offered through your Son. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 5, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 32:9-20

“The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” Isaiah 32:17-18 (NRSV)

How do we know that God desires good things for us? Because he tells us so! But this is no ‘prosperity gospel’ that promises riches and power if you follow a certain formula. This is God’s ultimate vision for the world he created: that all will live in right relationship with him, which will result in peace and security forever.

According to God’s vision, peace is not a mere absence of war; ‘peace’ maintained through threats and coercion is not real peace. According to God’s vision, there will be no cacophony of voices competing for our devotion; God alone will have our devotion, and we will all do whatever God has given into our power to ensure that all are able to worship him. According to God’s vision, there will be no need to fear one another; we will be able to trust that all in the world, because of their right relationship with God, are seeking to ensure our wellbeing, just as we will seek theirs.

This is not the world as it is now, but this is the world as God envisions it, and it is the world he desires for us. Live in right relationship with God, and begin to work towards its transformation into the world it was meant to be.

Let us pray. God of peace, you desire our lives to be peaceful. Help us to live in righteousness, that we may show those who live in fear and chaos that there is a better way. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 5, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Galatians 5:16-26

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22 (NRSV)

In today’s competitive environment, it can be difficult to remain committed to following the way of the Lord. Especially as the structures that undergird our society become increasingly unjust and amoral, it can seem as though living according to traditional Christian values is becoming more and more challenging.

But traditional Christian values came to be in an environment that was hostile to them. Jesus came into a world that didn’t want to hear his message of grace and forgiveness, and he was killed for proclaiming it. The Christians to whom Paul was writing were being persecuted for their faith, yet they were still called to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law of the land did not support or reward those values, but there was nothing stopping people from living according to them nonetheless.

As our culture becomes more and more accepting of self-indulgence and irresponsibility, and our laws reward those who act in selfish and exploitative ways, remember that there is still no law against exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. Let the love of God reign in your heart and in your life.

Let us pray. Truine God, you sent your Holy Spirit to guide us in our ways. Open our hearts to the fruits of your Spirit, that we may live extraordinary lives in these troubling times. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Inspired by 1 John 4:7-21

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God love us so much, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:10-11 (NRSV)

Love is risky. Love is difficult. Love is painful. Yet love has the potential to be the most powerful, transformative, and rewarding force on the planet.

Because of the risks involved, we often try to limit our love to those who are most ‘deserving’ of it, or who are at the lowest risk of causing us pain. But that is not how God wants us to love, and it’s not how he’s modeled love for us.

We were sinners against God, deserving of death. Yet the first action of our salvation was God’s love for us. He saw our sin, and he loved us enough to send his Son. We rejected and murdered his Son, and he loved us enough to raise his Son in such a way as to conquer death for all of us. We demonstrated with our actions that we did not love God, and that we were at very high risk of causing him pain, but God loved us anyway, and that love is powerful enough to transform us into beings worthy of his love. All because he loved us first.

Don’t limit your love; by doing so you limit love’s transformative powers. People who are loved find it easier to be lovable; they in turn are able to love others, who then find it easier to be lovable, and the world can turn around from its selfish, sinful ways. Let the unconditional love of God transform your life to one in which you will dare to love others, even if they seem undeserving of your love. After all, if God had waited to love us until we were deserving of it, we’d still be waiting now.

Let us pray. God of love, you loved us first, even though we were guilty of sin and undeserving of your love. Let your grace transform our lives, that we may be your agents of loving and positive change in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Easter 5, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Mark 4:30-32

“[Jesus] also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’” Mark 4:30-32 (NRSV)

With what can we compare the kingdom of God? There are many parables describing different aspects of it, but it can only be described incompletely and symbolically, because there is absolutely nothing that is truly like it that already exists on this earth.

The kingdom of God is of great potential: it starts out very small, yet it grows large enough to provide shelter and shade. The kingdom of God is unexpected: mustard was sometimes grown for culinary and medicinal purposes, but not for the physical or structural properties of the plant itself. The kingdom of God is unpredictable: mustard was something of a weed, and could easily take over the entire garden.

The kingdom of God is all of these things, yet it is so much more. Most importantly, the kingdom of God is not the status quo here on earth; it is not the way things currently are. The kingdom of God is the transformed life we live when we follow Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, freeing us to cast off the bonds of our current reality, choosing instead to live according to his grace and love.

Let us pray. Sovereign God, your kingdom is at hand. Give us the courage to embrace you as our ruler, that we may enjoy the benefits of citizenship in your kingdom here on earth. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.