Epiphany 3, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 46 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” Psalm 46:1-3 (NRSV)

The world can be a frightening place. Cultural norms change and call into question all of our old assumptions. Human sinfulness causes war and poverty, and natural disasters bring death and destruction. It’s a real challenge to remain hopeful and strong in the face of such turmoil.

Yet God’s love is never changing, and cannot be defeated. Looking to God can give us the strength and the hope we need to counter all the fear and pain in the world. God’s love is active in all times and in all places, and continues to apply even as cultures shift and change. God’s love encourages those who fight for justice and who struggle to change the systems that exploit the poor to serve the rich. God’s love empowers those who work to rebuild after a natural disaster, and the kindness shown by one human being to another in any circumstance is the love of God working in the world.

Even as the world changes, God proves that he is not bound by the world, and his steadfast love endures forever.

Let us pray. Enduring God, you have seen the world change beyond recognition, and it continues to change still. Show us your steadfast love, that we may reflect your hope to all who struggle. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 5:33-42 

“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39a (NRSV)

Humility is a virtue praised by many Christians, but practiced by few. We’re so certain of what we know to be true about God and his will that we often react with hostility towards someone who has a different interpretation than we do. We take so seriously the command to not be taken in by false teachers that we attack anyone who teaches differently than we do. Just like the Pharisees did.

The Pharisees were faithful men, trying to protect Judaism from the hostile environment in which it found itself. According to their understanding, God would never reveal himself through a poor itinerant preacher who was executed as a criminal. Anyone who taught otherwise didn’t understand God properly, and needed to be put down before they could cause fatal misunderstanding among the faithful.

But God was not limited by the Pharisees’ understanding, and he did indeed reveal himself through a poor itinerant preacher who was executed as a criminal. Neither is God limited by our understanding, and he still continues to reveal himself in surprising ways. Of course we are to carefully consider any new interpretation in order to guard against being taken in by false teachings, but we’re to do so with humility, understanding that just because we never thought of God in a certain way before doesn’t mean that such thoughts are necessarily wrong. After all, the law and the prophets had been around for centuries or millennia, understood in a certain way. Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets in a way no one expected or had anticipated, yet it was no less God’s work for all its unexpectedness. Only those with humility were able to recognize it.

Let us pray. God of wisdom, your ways are unknowable. Grant us the humility to be open to you, that we may not find ourselves fighting against you in order to defend our own ideas. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

“Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches…In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.” 1 Corinthians 7:17b, 24 (NRSV)

Encountering the risen Christ can utterly transform our lives. Our outlook, our priorities, everything about us is affected; nothing about us remains untouched or off-limits to God once we begin to live according to our faith.

At the same time, however, we never cease to be who we are, who God created us to be. Each of us was born with specific gifts, abilities, and weaknesses, and living a life of faith does not mean we give those up in order to try to be something we’re not. Rather, living our lives in obedience to Christ empowers us to fully be the people God created us to be, whereas living apart from Christ means we’re only a shadow of what we could be.

Whoever you are, whatever you’re doing when God calls you, God wants you to continue using those gifts as you follow him. The only difference is that instead of making your own way and living only for yourself, you’ll be living for the glory of the Lord, oriented toward him, part of and supported by the whole body of Christ. And that one difference makes all the difference in the world.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you created wondrous diversity. Help us to recognize the unique gifts we each have to offer, that we may serve you fully and build up the whole body of Christ. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Inspired by Jonah 3:1-5, 10

“Jonah began to go into the city, going a days’ walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” Jonah 3:4-5 (NRSV)

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the country that had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel around 732 BC. They did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were not God’s chosen people, and they were understood to be outside of God’s covenant. Jonah’s proclamation was, from their perspective, a message from a ‘foreign’ god, and there was no reason to believe that they would or should take it seriously.

Yet they did take it seriously. Very seriously. When they heard the Word of God, all in the city repented and turned from their evil ways, hoping that God would have mercy on them. Hearing the Word of God had a profound impact on their actions.

How much of an impact does hearing the Word of God have on your actions? Many of us feel so privileged to be forgiven Christians that we don’t put much importance on the Word of God. We don’t let the bible influence our behaviors, or let a powerfully proclaimed sermon that speaks directly to our hearts really change our lives. In truth, many of us are more likely to allow our local weather forecaster influence our day to day living than the Word of God.

Yet as Christians we have encountered the Word made flesh; therefore that Word should be the most important influence in our lives. God desires us to live fully; those in Nineveh understood that, and heeded the Word from a God they’d never known. Those of us who have encountered the risen Christ and call ourselves by his name should do no less.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you have given us your Word as a gift. Help us to listen and to heed, that we may enjoy the fullness of the lives you have given us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Jeremiah 20:14-18 

“Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” Jeremiah 20:18 (NRSV)

While we may want to believe that faith in Christ will spare us from all pain, suffering, turmoil or difficulty, the truth is that we still live in a fallen and sinful world, and the whole creation is groaning for redemption from bondage and decay. The difficulties of living in this world can seem overwhelming. Living as Christians who reject the values of the prevailing culture can cause us to suffer even more, because we can be perceived as threatening to other people’s comfortable way of life.

Such was the case with Jeremiah. Jeremiah called out these words of despair because he was being persecuted for obeying the word of the Lord, proclaiming the word to people who didn’t want to hear it. Jeremiah was overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair, and cursed the very day he was born. But that birth was no accident. For God had told him, “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.” God also promised him, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

The people who whom Jeremiah was speaking were hostile to his words, and fought against him. Yet Jeremiah himself knew that despite the suffering he experienced by obeying the Lord, the Lord was with him, and the One who created him would have the final word. And through the centuries and even millennia, the words of Jeremiah have brought many people comfort, and have shown us that hopelessness and despair are not signs of weak or faulty faith, but are just as much a part of being a faithful follower of God as confidence and certainty.

Let us pray. God our Comforter, you have promised to be with us. Comfort us with your loving grace, that we may not be defeated by the enemies of your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Friday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Peter 3:1-7

“This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles.” 2 Peter 3:1-2 (NRSV)

The bible is an ancient book. The most recently written parts of it date back about nineteen hundred years, and the oldest from about three thousand years ago, which set down oral tradition that was much older than that.

Yet the words that were spoken and written millennia ago were inspired by our timeless God, with his timeless love and timeless wisdom. While much of the bible deals with specific cultures in specific lands in a specific point in history, the overall message is not bound by time and space. God created the world and everything in it, and saw that it was good. God has guided his people and instructed them in ways of justice, charity, equity, and love. God has desired peace and wellbeing for his people, and told them how they could achieve that in this life. And God sent his Son to save us from ourselves, and to bring us back to the One who created us, who loves us, and who continues to guide us.

The fact that the bible is so old does not mean it’s irrelevant to our lives today. Rather, it demonstrates that God is steadfast in his love, has been with us from the beginning, has never given up on us, and will continue to be with us through the very end.

Let us pray. Eternal God, you have spoken through the prophets and through your Son. Grant us the ears to hear and the wisdom to understand, that we may live justly and peacefully by your words and your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 3, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 62:5-12

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” Psalm 62:5 (NRSV)

We put our hope in so many things. Jobs, financial security, and power can be useful tools, but intellectually we understand that they will not meet our every need (though we frequently act as though they will). We also put our hope in people: friends and family. Yet as much as we love them, and as close as we may be to them, they (and we) are still sinful human beings, and are also incapable of meeting one’s every need. Even the person we love most in the world will sometimes disappoint us.

And that’s fine. Learning to live with one another’s shortcomings and practicing forgiveness when we inadvertently hurt each other is an important part of mature love. Expecting another person to make us happy or save us from our troubles is unfair to that person, because we’re turning them into an idol, rather than a person to be loved and respected in his or her own right. Only God is capable of meeting such high expectations; only God will never disappoint us, and only God is worthy of our entire hope and trust. Jobs, financial security, and power can help us be good stewards; loved ones can support us and build us up and help us on our journeys. But only God can deliver us and be our salvation.

Let us pray. Majestic God, you have blessed us with the capacity to love other human beings deeply. Enable us to keep our hopes and expectations of each other reasonable and realistic, that we may reserve our worship for you alone. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 2, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Luke 18:15-17 

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Luke 18:16b (NRSV) 

We make Christianity unnecessarily difficult. We put rules and restrictions on specific behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that must or must not be demonstrated in order to determine who is truly a Christian, and who is not. We set expectations and condemn anyone who fails to meet them. Anyone who does not give enough, do enough, or believe exactly these doctrines is shunned at best, or threatened with hellfire and damnation at worst. For all that we say that Christianity is a religion of grace, our actions point to a religion of law.

Children have very little to offer. Infants have even less. Yet when the disciples turned away people who were bringing infants and children to see Jesus, Jesus insisted that they be allowed to come. He then held up these children and infants as the model by which all should receive the kingdom of heaven. People who have done nothing, who lack even the capacity to do anything to earn or deserve the kingdom are the ones to whom it belongs.

An encounter with the risen Christ will certainly change us, and living out our faith in discipleship will flow naturally from that. However the encounter itself, coming to meet Jesus, can only be done when we have nothing to give, but everything to gain. Nothing can be simpler than that.

Let us pray. Gentle Lord, you called the little children to you. Grant us a child’s trust and humility, that we may approach you not only with boldness and expectation, but also with awe and adoration. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 2, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Samuel 15:10-31 

“And Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the LORD? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’” 1 Samuel 15:22 (NRSV)

Discerning the will of God is rarely easy, but with steadfastness and self-discipline in keeping God foremost in our hearts and minds it can be done.

But sometimes we don’t want to. Following God usually involves some degree of self-sacrifice or self-denial, and sometimes we just want what we want when we want it. So we don’t consider God in our decisions and we do what seems right in our own eyes. Sometimes our actions seem to pay off and we have more money, more esteem, more ‘success’ as the world defines it. But wanting to be good Christians, we try to spin it such that we did what we did in order to better honor God by giving more money or stuff to church or other charities. But it’s as if we’re saying, “Look, Lord, I did it on my own without you, and look how we both get to benefit!”

While helping others through church ministries and charities is good, God doesn’t want us to do it on our own. He wants our hearts and our minds, not our stuff, and he wants us to walk in relationship with him, open and obedient to his will. When we’re truly walking with God, the benefits to us and to all of his creation are far greater than a few extra dollars in the offering plate.

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you walk with us, guiding our ways. Help us to follow you, that our service might reap benefits for others in ways that are beyond our ability to imagine. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 2, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Samuel 9:27-10:8 

“Now when these signs meet you, do whatever you see fit to do, for God is with you.” 1 Samuel 10:7 (NRSV) 

When we’re faced with a difficult decision, we often pray for guidance so that we’ll know what the ‘right’ choice is. We want to know what God wants us to do. And we fear choosing ‘wrong,’ afraid not only of the consequences of a bad choice, of but God’s wrath for not correctly discerning his will.

It’s good to seek God’s guidance in our decisions. But God doesn’t have one single prescribed path for each of us that we risk ruin and damnation if we accidentally deviate from it. When we seek God in all that we do, when we remain focused on him as a regular part of living our ordinary lives, we have a good idea of what choices will be pleasing to God, and what choices would serve to drive us away from him. Clearly we want to avoid the second, but just as there are multiple ways in which to serve the Lord, there are multiple choices we can make that would be in accordance with his will. When God’s will is a regular consideration in all that we do, he is with us as we do as we see fit. And if we fail to consider him and end up making a bad decision that drives us further away from him, he will always be there, calling us back to him, ready to embrace us in his grace.

Let us pray. Generous God, you have granted us many freedoms in your creation. Guide us in our choices, that we may always serve you according to the gifts you have given each of us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.