Epiphany 2, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Galatians 1:6-12

“For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Galatians 1:11-12 (NRSV)

Why should we follow the bible when it’s just an assortment of ancient texts written by a number of different people who lived in cultures very different from our own thousands of years ago?

It’s true that the most recent texts of the bible were written slightly less than two thousand years ago with other texts in the bible being much older, and it’s true that it was penned by many different authors.  It’s also true that the cultural norms and societal expectations reflected in the bible bear little resemblance to the world we live in today.

But it’s also true that the bible as we have it today contains the gospel of Almighty God, and that is applicable to all times and places.

The need for grace, justice, mercy, and love was not unique to the ancient Hebrews, just as it was not unique to the Jews living under Roman rule, just as it is not unique to us.  And God’s will for us to live according to those principles is not temporally or culturally conditioned.  God’s grace has changed lives throughout history, and it continues to change lives today.

Many people of faith can talk about their experiences with God.  Those experiences are not contained in a book; they are lived reality.  The bible, despite its age and numerous authors, still points us to the one God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, and it is him that we follow.

Let us pray.  God of the ages, you have walked with humanity throughout our entire history.  Help us to understand your actions in the past, that we may better recognize your activity in our present.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 51:1-16

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness, you people who have my teaching in your hearts; do not fear the reproach of others, and do not be dismayed when they revile you.”  Isaiah 51:7 (NRSV)

Many people who claim to follow Christ believe they know righteousness and have God’s teachings in their hearts.  Not only are they not dismayed when they’re reviled, they seem to delight in it.  If others are holding them in reproach, they believe, they must be doing something right.  Everyone knows that the world has rejected God and his followers.

But the teachings of God include humility, and throughout the bible God has judged righteousness according to justice, mercy, and love.  When our beliefs are questioned, we must be willing to consider the question on its merits.  Do our teachings uphold justice for the disenfranchised and mercy to those who are aware of their human failings?  Do they demonstrate unconditional love for others, regardless of their differences from us?  If so then we need not fear reproach and ridicule from those who seek their own advantage at the cost of others.  If not, then it’s not righteousness and God’s teaching that we’re defending.

Many in the world are seeking God’s righteousness and want to live according to his ways of justice, mercy, and love.  Don’t be dissuaded by those who would speak against you; proclaim the grace of God, and share his love with those who desperately need it.

Let us pray.  God of love, your ways are merciful and just.  Grant us the humility to examine our own religious tenets, that we may be steadfast in defending your truth rather than our own opinions.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by Jeremiah 1:4-10

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5 (NRSV)

There are no accidental people in this world.  Regardless of the circumstances of their conception and birth, every single person is created by God.  Every single person is known to him, and created with gifts and possibilities only they can embody.  No one is disposable.

But children born into poverty, children born in forgotten or reviled parts of the world, children born to people who don’t recognize their own worth let alone the worth of others, are raised to believe that they don’t matter.  The world assigns value to individuals based on arbitrary things like physical beauty, wealth, and how well they can influence others.  Anyone who does not have value according to these criteria is dismissed at best, or exploited at worst.

God is not interested in beauty, wealth, or worldly power.  God is interested in us, and he desires each of us to live according to our full potential—the potential he gave us when he created us.  He knows the trials we face in this world, and he has promised to be with us every step of the way.

The world has a very limited vision and imagination, but the possibilities with God are endless.  Do not listen to what the world says you are; know that God created you with value and worth, and his love will overcome all the world’s apathy.

Let us pray.  God of love, you created each individual with inherent worth.  Help us to see others as you see them, that we may help all your people experience the dignity and respect they deserve.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Monday, Year A

Inspired by Acts 10:44-48

“The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.  Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’”  Acts 10:45-47 (NRSV)

Christians often make a point of trying to recognize God’s work in the ordinary things and people of their lives.  We can recognize prayers answered through the kind words and deeds of those around us, and we’re grateful for the constant assurances of his grace and presence.

But we still wear blinders that prevent us from seeing the breadth and depth of God’s love.  There are those whom we see as our adversaries.  Perhaps they have adopted a lifestyle we object to.  Perhaps they adhere to cultural behaviors and norms we find abhorrent.  Perhaps we disagree with them politically, and find ourselves working on opposite sides of issues we deem vitally important.  Whatever the reason, we’re likely to dismiss any evidence of God’s work in these people as a fluke or coincidence.

But God works in many ways and through many people, and he doesn’t limit himself to those of whom we approve.  He can and does work in and through people of various lifestyles, cultures, and political ideologies.  Just as the Jews who went with Peter to Cornelius’ house realized they could not withhold the baptismal waters from the Gentiles who had already received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we must recognize the grace of God working through those we would consider unworthy of such a gift.

Let us pray.  Generous God, you pour out your grace on all people.  Soften our hearts, that we may recognize those different from us as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Baptism of Our Lord, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 42:1-9

“I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  Isaiah 42:6-7 (NRSV)

A common complaint about religion in general and Christianity in particular is that it is oppressive.  There are so many rules and restrictions, people aren’t free to express their authentic selves; they must conform to antiquated codes of behavior and morality in order to avoid the wrath of God or those who claim to speak for God.

While this may be how some practice the Christian faith, it’s not reflective of God’s will or intention for his people.

Our world rewards greed, apathy, and exploitation.  Since this world is all that we know, many of us are blind to the suffering we cause or allow.  Many of us are imprisoned and exploited ourselves, and are unaware that there is anything better.  We feel powerless, so we yield to those who have claimed power for themselves, and we live by the rules they have created to benefit themselves, regardless of its impact on us.

But God created each and every one of us with dignity, agency, and inherent worth.  The Christian religion is not about oppression, but freedom.  In Christ we are free to be the people God created us to be, free to challenge the abusive and exploitative systems that currently define the world.  His righteousness is not based on strict adherence to ancient morality codes, but on recognizing our own worth and respecting that everyone else has worth equal to our own.

Let us pray.  God of righteousness, you value us more than we value ourselves.  Open our eyes to your light, that we may break free of our prisons and live the lives you created us for.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Samuel 7:3-17

“Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.  He went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all these places.  Then he would come back to Ramah, for his home was there; he administered justice there to Israel, and built there an altar to the Lord.” 1 Samuel 7:15-17 (NRSV)

Judgment.  It’s such a loaded word.  None of us wants to be judged by anyone else, and a common theme in Christianity is the importance of not judging one another.

Yet as much as we don’t want to be judged, we desperately want justice.  Working to bring justice to the world is another common theme in Christianity.  But in order for there to be justice, there must be judgment.  How are we to hold these two in tension?

Judgment has such negative connotations because it often refers to one person judging another by his or her own arbitrary standards.  In far too many cases the one doing the judging fails to meet those standards themselves, yet holds others to them nonetheless.  Such hypocrisy makes us wary of anyone who would presume to sit in judgment over others.

But God’s standards are not arbitrary.  He recognizes the inherent value of every human being, and his standards ensure that no one is abused, exploited, or in any way devalued.  We who call ourselves Christian must live by these standards ourselves, and in this way we can bring justice to the world without hypocrisy.

We do not judge according to our own opinions and desires, but according to the will of the One who loves us for all eternity.

Let us pray.  God of justice, you desire wellness and dignity for all your people.  Grant us the humility to recognize our own failings, that our judgments may truly reflect your love for the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Acts 9:10-19a

“The Lord said to [Ananias], ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul.  At this moment he is praying…’  But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’  But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.’”  Acts 9:11, 13-15 (NRSV)

Our actions have consequences, for good or for ill.  People hear what we say and see what we do, and they judge us accordingly.  If we consistently demonstrate that we’re trustworthy and kind, people will give us their trust and reciprocate our kindness.  If we show ourselves to be cruel and vindictive, people will stay away from us and possibly seek our downfall for their own protection.

There is new life in Christ, and God will forgive us all our sins.  God can soften a hard heart and turn someone from cruelty to love.  But even when we’ve experienced such a transformation, we still have to live with our past actions.  Human beings cannot see into human hearts as well as God can, and broken trust takes a long time to rebuild.

Ananias took a great risk in going to see Saul, who was known for violently persecuting Christians.  He even argued with the Lord when instructed to go, responding to the truth he knew about Saul based on his past actions.  But Ananias did not know what the Lord knew, and the Lord convinced Ananias to go anyway.  In the end, it turned out the Lord was right; no harm came to Ananias and Saul became Paul, the greatest missionary of all time.

Consider what your own actions say about you.  Would it take a divine command from the Lord to convince another human being to trust you?

Let us pray.  Lord of second chances, you can turn the hardest heart into the softest, most fertile soil.  Help us to live according to your grace, that no one will fear or mistrust your servants.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Samuel 3:1-9

“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli.  The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread…Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  The Lord called Samuel again, a third time.  And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’  Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.”  1 Samuel 3:1, 7-8 (NRSV)

In our modern era, the prophetic word of the Lord is indeed rare, and visions (at least credible visions) are not widespread.  This is not the first time in human history that we have seemed so far from God’s care.  Yet even in the absence of obvious proof of God’s engagement, there are those who faithfully serve him anyway.

Samuel had been dedicated to the Lord since his birth, and had been instructed in that service by Eli since he was a very young boy.  Yet for years he served a God he did not know, whose word had not been revealed to him.  Given the rarity of God’s activity at that point in time, there was no guarantee that Samuel would ever know the Lord beyond what he’d been taught about him, yet he served him anyway.

And when the Lord did reveal himself to Samuel, Samuel didn’t recognize him.  Samuel mistook the voice of the Lord for the voice of Eli, someone familiar and known to him.

When we serve the Lord in these modern days, we may feel as though our service is for nothing, because we receive no feedback from God.  But the truth is that God’s activity is all around us; we just mistake it for more familiar things.  God may choose to keep himself hidden in the ordinary places of our lives, but don’t mistake hiddenness for absence.  God is with us, and he values our work in the world.

Let us pray.  Hidden God, you reveal yourself in your own ways and in your own time.  Grant us steadfastness to serve you even when we can’t see you, that the world can continue to learn about your ways from your faithful servants.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 8, Year A

Inspired by Ephesians 4:7, 11-16

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  Ephesians 4:11-12 (NRSV)

We expect a lot from our pastors.  We expect them to be gifted preachers and worship leaders.  We expect them to be effective teachers of all ages.  We expect them to be competent leaders of the church organization, managing staff and volunteers alike.  We expect them to visit the sick and suffering, and counsel those in need.  We expect them to be representatives of the church in the community, making others aware of the church’s presence and inviting them to come and join.  We expect them to demonstrate the love of God in Christ in every aspect of their lives.

What’s left for us to do?  When we put so many expectations on our pastoral leaders for doing the ministry of the church, how do we understand our own membership in the body of Christ?

Christian discipleship is not a spectator sport, and Christian ministry was never meant to be performed by trained professionals only.  Pastors are trained to equip the saints for ministry, and we are the saints.  All Christians are called to actively participate in the ministry, according to their own gifts.

You don’t have to be a pastor in order to teach.  You don’t have to be a pastor to organize volunteers for a specific ministry.  You don’t have to be a pastor to visit the sick and suffering, or listen to and walk with those in need.  We all represent the Church to the community, and we’re all called to invite others to come and see what we’re all about.  And every one of us is called to demonstrate the love of God in Christ in every aspect of our lives.

Even as you sin and fall short of the glory of God, Christ’s grace has made you a saint, and you are a member of his body, strengthened by and connected to other people of faith, called to function in the world as an emissary of God’s love.  What gifts have you been given to use in service to his ministry?

Let us pray.  Gracious God, you have called us to serve you.  Help us to recognize the gifts you have given us, that we may use them to proclaim your love to all people.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 7, Year A

Inspired by Ephesians 3:14-21

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21 (NRSV)

Pastors’ libraries are filled with books detailing how to develop certain ministries in their congregations.  There are books on how to build a better children’s ministry, a better youth ministry, a better men’s ministry or women’s ministry.  There are books on how to become a teaching congregation, a praying congregation, a large congregation built on intimate small group ministries.  Many faithful pastors try to implement these strategies, and many faithful parishioners follow them, believing they will grow their church membership and strengthen the faith of those already there.

But the purpose of the church is not to grow its membership.  The purpose of the church is to glorify God, and we do that by doing his work in the world.  Each and every one of us has received the power of the Holy Spirit, which is God’s own power, and with that power we can demonstrate the love of God in Christ Jesus to all who so desperately need to hear it.

Coordinating our efforts and working together as the body of Christ is indeed a good thing, but we must never lose sight of the fact that our congregations are merely tools.  We are the Church, the body of Christ, called to do God’s work in the world.  His power and vision are beyond anything we can even imagine, yet he inspires us to change lives by showing mercy, forgiveness, kindness, justice, and love.

Let us pray.  Awesome God, your power is beyond what we can imagine.  Let your Spirit work within us, that we may proclaim your grace and bring healing to the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.