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 First 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. Jesus lived a sinless life in perfect unity with God the Father, and was proven guiltless by the Spirit. He was acknowledged 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 do not 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.

Transfiguration, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 2:1-4

“Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” Hebrews 2:1 (NRSV)

Words have meaning, meaning inspires action, and actions have consequences. The words we hear and pay attention to help shape who we are and how we view the world. How we view the world determines how we interact with it, and how we interact with it largely determines how it interacts with us, including the events we experience, the people we encounter, and the words they say. We hear their words, are shaped by them, and the circle continues.

We have the words of the Law and the Prophets. We have the story of how our loving God has created and interacted with his people since the beginning of time. We’ve encountered the Word who was in the beginning with God, who was God, and who became flesh and lived among us. This Word has meaning, and, if we pay attention to it, it can help shape who we are and how we view the world.

But there are many other words being spoken: words of anger, bitterness, jealousy, greed, selfishness, and blame. These words have meaning, too, and can also help shape who we are and how we view the world. These words are always being spread, fed, and renewed.

There are too many words in the world to pay attention to all of them. The ones we pay attention to, the ones that have greater meaning for us, will determine who we are and the world we live in. Which words would you rather have shape your world? Words of hate, or the Word of God?

Let us pray. God of the ages, your Word is the source of life and love. Help us to pay attention to your Word above all others, that we may help shape the world according to your grace and love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year B

Inspired by Mark 9:2-9

“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” Mark 9:5-7 (NRSV)

When Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up that mountain, they had no idea that they would find themselves in the very presence of the embodiment of the Law, the Prophets, and God himself. They all reacted quite rationally: they were terrified. But Peter tried to overcome his terror and take control of the situation. In the presence of the Law, the Prophets, and God himself, Peter passed his own judgment on what was taking place (it is good for us to be here) and proposed a course of action (let us make three dwellings).

God invites us to witness many amazing things, but that does not mean that we must always be in control of the situation we’re witnessing. As much as we strive to be active workers for the kingdom, to do all the good and right things that God calls us to do, sometimes God just calls us to be. Peter wasn’t called to that mountain so he could evaluate the situation, and he certainly wasn’t called to build tents. Peter, James, and John were there to stand witness, notice what they saw, remember it, and, at the appropriate time, tell others what they’d witnessed, letting their experience inform their understanding.

As you go about your daily life, rather than trying to influence every encounter, just notice what is going on. God works in many and various ways, and some of those ways don’t require your direct involvement. Observe how God is working around you, in and with other people, and through certain events. Perhaps you will find that you are the one being influenced, because when you’re not speaking your own mind you might be able to hear the words of the Lord saying to you, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Let us pray. Holy Lord, your ways are many and mysterious. Help us to be mindful of your work through others, that we may continue to be molded and shaped by your bountiful grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 50:1-6

“The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.” Psalm 50:6 (NRSV)

Christianity and judgment have always had a difficult relationship with each other. On one hand, the bible is clear that God is our judge, so we can’t simply dismiss the concept (though many of us would like to!). On the other hand, the bible is equally clear that only God is our judge, and therefore it is not our calling or our place to pass judgment on one another.

But many of us have been judged by others, whether they were passing judgment in the name of God or merely according to their own personal opinions. Either way, most of us associate being judged with unfairness, rejection, and a whole host of other negative emotions that also get transferred to God when we contemplate God as judge.

But God is not that kind of judge. Usually when we’ve been judged it’s been by someone who has no idea what it’s like to walk a mile in our shoes. But God in Christ has walked in our shoes. God became human and lived as an ordinary person, with all the fears, temptations, and struggles that characterize the human condition.

God the Son is the righteous judge, in perfect relationship and harmony with God the Father, but we are not judged by that standard. If we were capable of such righteousness on our own, then we would not have needed Christ in the first place. Rather, we are judged by our Lord Jesus Christ, the righteous judge, who looks at us through the eyes of the one who looked at his own murderers and prayed, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Let us pray. Lord our judge, you alone are righteous. Grant us the courage to trust in your merciful justice, that we may confidently proclaim you to the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Friday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Timothy 1:12-20

“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:12-14 (NRSV)

The order of events in Paul’s conversion is telling. Although he’d heard of Jesus, he did not believe in him as Christ the Savior; therefore he continued his ways of blasphemy, persecution, and violence. It was while Paul was in the midst of these ungodly behaviors that Christ judged him faithful and called him to himself. Upon receiving such grace, Paul was strengthened to change his sinful ways and begin working in the service of Christ.

Sin, grace, transformation. That is the order in which God’s love becomes manifest. God does not reserve his love for those who are ‘good’ and ‘deserve’ it. The charge that “God won’t love you unless you change” is false; it is God’s love that enables radical change. But always, God’s love and grace come first, effecting our salvation.

The salvation of Christ is not about getting into heaven when you die. The salvation of Christ frees us from lives of sin and bondage here on earth, and enables us to live redeemed lives overflowing with the faith and the love of our Savior. He comes to us with mercy, faith, and love first, and that experience transforms us into joyful and obedient workers for the kingdom.

Let us pray. Merciful Lord, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Ignite in our hearts thankfulness and devotion to you, that we might become the people you have already called and created us to be. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 (NRSV)

Where is God? So is the question asked by skeptics and those who look to the skies for dramatic signs and wonders proving the existence of a divine Being.

But God’s ways are more subtle than that. God works through his people, showing love and grace and providing hope through the joyful obedience of those who have experienced his love and grace for themselves. Where is God when tragedy strikes? He is there in the people helping with the relief efforts and who are comforting the victims. Where is God in tyrannical regimes? He is there in the people working to overthrow such unjust power structures. Where is God in the dark monotony of our ordinary lives? He is there in the people performing extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity.

God is in the people who refuse to yield to the norms of evil and self-indulgence. God is in the people who live lives of hope in the midst of despair. God is in the people who meet greed with generosity, cruelty with kindness, hate with love, and apathy with genuine concern. God is active in the midst of his creation, working through his people and for his people, and not sitting up in the sky performing dramatic displays of power for the purpose of impressing the doubtful.

Let us pray. Inspiring God, your love emboldens us to perform your work in the world. Help us to display your gracious nature to all creation, that the skeptics among us may come to know your love through our actions. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 5, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 102:12-28

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD: that he looked down from his holy height, from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.” Psalm 102:18-20 (NRSV)

We are a disbelieving people, wanting to see the proof with our own eyes so that we may make our own judgments. In some matters it is prudent to retain such skepticism. Someone who believes anything anyone tells him is likely to be taken in by falsehood, and fails to use the judgment and discernment that God has given him. But total reliance on one’s own judgment and discernment rejects the notion that others may also have judgment, discernment, and experiences of their own. Especially when those experiences are profound enough to shape the course of history.

God was active in the lives of those who lived in ancient Israel. They knew their salvation was from God, that it was God who heard their cry and rescued them from their despair. That salvation shaped the course of their lives for centuries, and they taught their children all that God had done for them so they would know to worship and honor him as well.

Must God prove himself anew to each generation? Or are we willing to accept the testimonies of those who came before us? God is still active in our lives today, though only those who are familiar with his actions in the past are likely to recognize his current activity. The bible documents how God has interacted with his people from the very beginning of time; while we did not see it with our own eyes, we have the witness of generations before us who experienced the profound love of God, and who told their stories so that we too may worship and praise the Lord.

Let us pray. God of the ages, you have always been active in your people’s lives. Help us to accept their testimony as true, that we may better comprehend your loving nature. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 5, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 15:36-41

“After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’…The disagreement [about who they should take with them] became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord.” Acts 15:36, 39-40 (NRSV)

Even among ourselves, faithful followers of Christ, we disagree. There is so much work to do, so many ways to do it, and so many different abilities and perspectives within the whole body of Christ that there will always be differences of opinion regarding the best path, strategy, or approach.

And that’s OK. Unity in Christ does not mean uniformity. Being of one mind in Christ means being united in achieving Christ’s purpose, which is to proclaim the good news of the Lord. Exactly how we go about doing that is open to interpretation, provided we treat each other with the same love and grace we are called by our Lord to show to all.

Paul and Barnabas wanted to see how the people who had come to believe in the cities they’d already visited were doing. They disagreed on who should go with them. In the end they split up, each taking along the person they felt was the appropriate choice. And despite their disagreement, they both continued on their mission, united in the purpose of the gospel. Even though they never became of one mind on the matter, they both put the gospel mission first, and did not try to hinder the other from accomplishing it his own way.

Let us pray. God of unity and diversity, you desire us to be of one mind in you. Help us to understand that there are many ways to obey your will, that we may better recognize and appreciate the unique gifts and perspectives you have given to each of your beloved children. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 5, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 14:1-7

“The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Acts 14:1-2 (NRSV)

We know the way of Christ is right. We know that following the Lord will please God as well as provide for a life of justice and peace on this earth.

But there are many opinions about what is ‘right,’ and the way of Christ threatens the perceived peace, prosperity, and even identity of others, so some will refuse to hear the truth, and they will poison the minds of others to prevent the truth from being spread. Most of the time they believe that they are actually defending the truth from the lies and fantasies of Christians. Such has it been since the earliest days of the Church, and so it continues today.

Ultimately we cannot make people believe the truth, and we’re certainly not called to force others to live according to Christian principles expecting that belief will follow. All we are called to do is to live and preach the gospel. Sometimes great numbers of people will become believers, other times we’ll be soundly rejected. Either way, our obedience to the Lord will enable us to live free in the truth.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you have sent us to proclaim your gospel. Free us from pride and arrogance, that we may demonstrate your grace in the face of rejection and betrayal. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Inspired by Mark 1:29-39

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’” Mark 1:35-38 (NRSV)

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God, cured the sick and the lame, and cast out many demons. His fame spread far and wide, and people sought him out to heal their afflictions.

But Jesus did not come to heal physical afflictions; he came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Curing the sick and casting out demons demonstrated the power of his message in a very real and tangible way, but his message was his primary mission.

There are many needs in our own day that Christians are called to address. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, care for the sick, etc. But all these things are to be done as evidence of the kingdom of God come near, as real and tangible examples of how the power of God can make a difference in people’s lives. The needs are so many, and the workers so few, that we can lose sight of the life-changing and life-giving proclamation if we focus all our efforts on merely easing physical suffering.

The kingdom of God has come near; that is a real event with real power, which we should be willing to demonstrate with our actions. But Jesus was careful not to get so caught up healing people that he failed to proclaim the good news. We too must see our good works as ways to show the power of the message, without losing sight of our primary mission of proclaiming that message.

Let us pray. Compassionate Lord, your kingdom has come near, and you have commissioned us to proclaim your good news. Empower us to demonstrate your love with actions while speaking your words, that all may know your power and your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.