Wednesday in Holy Week, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 12:1-3

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV)

We all have people who have inspired us and impressed us with their lives of faith. Some may be found in the bible (Abraham, Moses, Mary, and Paul are all popular examples), and some have lived in the centuries since the bible was written (Saint Benedict, Martin Luther, and Mother Teresa all make the short list of many). In every case, these were ordinary individuals who lived faithfully despite difficult circumstances and/or personal weaknesses. We look up to them because we recognize how difficult it is to maintain a living, guiding faith in the face of such hardship or apparent futility, and we believe that we probably wouldn’t have done as well in their place. That is why they have our admiration.

It’s impossible to know whether or not we would have done as well in their places, but it doesn’t matter. Each of them had a path to walk, a race that was set before them, and each race was specific to each person. Would Moses, with his leadership abilities, have been as successful as Mother Teresa in her endless work with the poor? Would Saint Benedict, with his commitment to order and calling to establish community among like-minded Christians, have been as successful as Paul in his dynamic mission to the pagan Gentiles? Each ran with perseverance the race that was set before them, and they are now in the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run our own races, races that require the unique gifts and abilities that God has gifted each of us with.

Be encouraged by the faithful who have gone before us, and use their encouragement to live your own life in a way that will encourage others.

Let us pray. God of the ages, you guide your people in the way they should go. Enable us to discern our own gifts and callings, that we may follow you faithfully as we run the race you have set before us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Tuesday in Holy Week, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe…For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:21, 25 (NRSV)

Humankind has made great achievements and advancements over its history. We have used our God-given wisdom to solve many problems, and we have much to be proud of. But our wisdom is insufficient to provide us all that we need.

Our wisdom is shaped by our perspective here on earth, and, as such, it is highly limited in its scope. Our earthly wisdom says it’s foolish to believe that one man can die for the sins of many. Our wisdom says it’s foolish for God to be eternally faithful to sinful humanity. Our wisdom says that the lowly son of a Jewish carpenter cannot possibly be the source of salvation for all. Our wisdom says that there is nothing higher than our own logic. But our wisdom is foolishness compared to the wisdom of God, because one man did die for the sins of many, God is eternally faithful to sinful humanity, Jesus is the source of salvation for all, and God is higher than our own logic.

Consider all that we still don’t understand, and all that we’ve misunderstood over the centuries. One thing remains constant in the face of all logic and illogic; one thing remains true no matter what happens or how we perceive it: God is the source of all life in Christ Jesus, and it is from him that we have our wisdom, our redemption, and our sanctification.

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you have chosen what is foolish to the world to reveal your grace. Help us to put aside our reliance on our own abilities and recognize that all we have comes from you, that we may begin to accept and believe the great mystery that is your love in Christ Jesus. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Monday in Holy Week, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 42:1-9

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Isaiah 42:1 (NRSV)

What does God want most from his people in the world? Not rigid adherence to antiquated laws or customs. Not a personal piety that focuses entirely on oneself and ignores the suffering of others. When God was preparing to send his Son to save the world, he put his own spirit upon him, and that spirit was a spirit of justice. God is a God of justice, and he sent his Son to bring salvation through holy justice to the nations.

What is justice? It is fairness, equity, legitimacy. To be just is to be honorable and fair in one’s dealings and actions, and consistent with moral right. And because it is consistent with moral right, it is not cold and legalistic, but considers all the facts and circumstances in any given situation, and is tempered with mercy. When God envisions justice in the nations of the world, he envisions a world in which everyone acts honorably and treats everyone else fairly and equitably. He envisions a world that is committed to moral right, not in an impersonal, legalistic, arbitrary way, but in a gentle, empowering, dignified way. Being committed to moral right is not the same as being judged according to a specific moral code; being committed to moral right means being committed to the wellbeing and dignity of all people, over and above one’s personal gain.

We have been offered God’s salvation, and have been shown how to live according to his justice. How much better would this world be if more people took God’s vision of justice to heart as the guiding principle in their lives?

Let us pray. God of justice, you desire all nations to live with fairness, dignity, and legitimacy. Enable your people to embody these principles, that we may proclaim your justice, love, and mercy to all the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Sunday of the Passion, Year B

Inspired by John 12:12-16

“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.” John 12:16 (NRSV)

Throughout most of the gospels, Jesus is doing or saying amazing things, and those who are with him don’t really understand what’s going on. Even his disciples, those who saw and heard the most and who were also Jesus’ closest friends, privy to private teachings and explanations that Jesus didn’t share with the masses, didn’t get it. At least, not until after his death and resurrection. Then it all made sense: not only Jesus’ words and actions, but how he fit in with the whole story of God’s activity in the world as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Although we don’t have Jesus Christ, the Son of God, living among us as a human being today, God is still active in the world, working through, with, and in ordinary people and events. And as was true in Jesus’ day with his followers, we often don’t understand the significance of what we’re witnessing while it’s going on. But we can have faith that the one who defeated death in order to make everlasting life available to all is working for the good of creation, and while things may not make much sense to us right now, we will eventually see the world in the light of God’s glory.

Let us pray. Mysterious God, you are working in ways that we cannot fully recognize or understand. Grant us the wisdom to seek you in all things, that we might discern your presence and your activity in our ordinary lives. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 6, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:22-24 (NRSV)

There is so much that God does or allows that is beyond our comprehension. We throw something away as worthless, only to discover that it actually has great value in a capacity we’d never imagined. We try to prevent something that seems terrible, only to discover that our intervention has led to far worse consequences than we were trying to prevent in the first place.

Our imaginations are limited, and therefore so are our visions for our world. God’s vision, however, is limitless and eternal. Rather than fighting against the wonderful creativity of the Lord of all, let us marvel at his wondrous creation, and celebrate the glory of his world. And let us trust that God is doing wonderful things, creating new life and opportunities for healthy growth, even if we can’t see how, because he is all good, and he wills good things for his people and for his creation.

Let us pray. Creator God, you know your plan for your creation. Help us to trust in you, that we may work with you to bring your vision to fruition. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 6, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 2:12-18

“[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.” Philippians 2:12b-15 (NRSV)

The world is full of turmoil and strife. Everyone seeks to benefit themselves, and they frequently don’t care who gets hurt in the process. Many are convinced that the world would be a better place if everyone thought, acted, and believed as they do, and they try to force others into that mold. Threats and accusations abound, as we blame each other for the problems in the world.

Christians are in this world, but we are not of this world. We are called to be children of God, and as such we are to not engage in the threats and accusations that are the hallmark of this crooked and perverse generation. Each of us is called to work out our own salvation—not anyone else’s—with fear and trembling, listening for the will of God speaking to each of us in our own contexts and circumstances. As we discern God’s will for our lives, we’re to carry it out humbly, without calling attention to ourselves or condemning others for not being like us, and being freed from the sting of others’ condemnation of us. For God is at work in us, enabling us to will and to work for his good pleasure, and the threats and accusations directed at us by the rest of the world have no power over us as we shine like stars.

Let us pray. Father God, your Spirit is at work within us. Help us to be blameless and innocent in the world’s strife, that your love and mercy may shine through us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 6, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 2:1-11

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Philippians 2:3-6 (NRSV)

We want to be right. We want to be special. We want to be recognized, and admired. It’s hardwired into our human nature. And as the beloved children of God, heirs with Christ to the kingdom of heaven, we do have claim to a certain status.

But Christians who claim an elevated status and try to enjoy its benefits here on earth forfeit their rights to that claim. We are Christians because we follow Christ, and Christ, though he was God, did not claim his rightful special status over us. Rather he humbled himself to be our servant, enduring suffering and death in order to achieve our salvation. His actions demonstrated that he valued our lives above his own, our well-being above his own, and our interests above his own. If we are going to claim to be followers of his, then we must treat every other sinner in this world no less than Christ treated us. We may be heirs with him to the kingdom of heaven, and we may have a certain status because of it, but that status does not elevate us on this earth above others. If anything, it obligates us to a life of servitude to all of God’s creation.

It was, after all, Christ’s servitude to all of God’s creation that made us heirs with him in the first place.

Let us pray. Exalted God, through Christ’s life and death you experienced humility. Enable us to embrace that same spirit of humility before others, that we may be of one mind with Christ Jesus and demonstrate your love to all whom we encounter. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 119:9-16

“Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.” Psalm 119:12-14 (NRSV)

Many of us automatically equate rules with oppression and restrictions on our freedom. In some cases that equation is justified. Sometimes those in authority abuse their power and create statutes, ordinances, and decrees with the intention of controlling others in order to enhance their own position. As a result, we tend to look at all statutes and ordinances as tools of control by a power-hungry dictator.

But power-hungry dictator is not an accurate description of God. God is, as the psalmist says, blessed, and all statutes, ordinances, and decrees that come from him are equally blessed. To follow the statutes of the Lord is to live a blessed life, one governed by love, mercy, patience, and justice. Abandoning those statutes in order to exercise our freedom selfishly is to abandon riches for dross, gold for tin. In order to be blessed, we must follow the ordinances of the Blessed One. Such obedience, far from being restrictive, is the best exercise of our freedom in which we can engage.

Let us pray. Blessed Lord, you are good, and all that comes from you is good. Enable us to delight in your ways, that we may live the blessed lives you will for us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 2:14-24

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” Acts 2:22-24 (NRSV)

Sometimes it may seem as though the powers against God are winning. The priorities of self seem to have more support and acceptance than the priorities of God, and those working to defeat injustice and cruelty in the world seem thwarted at every turn.

But this world was created by God for us, and we were created by God for God. Nothing is happening outside of God’s foreknowledge, and nothing can happen that will thwart God’s ultimate will for his creation. Even the death of Jesus at the hands of ‘those outside the law’ could not thwart God’s plan for salvation, and he did the impossible and raised him up, freeing him from death’s power, because it was not God’s will for his Son to be held by that power.

No matter how much it may seem that God is losing the battle, know that it is impossible for God to lose. Whatever happens, God will turn it around and make it his victory, just as he turned the crucifixion of his Son into his victory of life over death.

Let us pray. Omnipotent God, you have power over all things. Grant us the patience to wait on you, that we may trust in your goodness in the face of selfishness, apathy, and evil. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

“Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NRSV)

Ministers of the gospel, whether formally ordained or just someone proclaiming his or her own faith, are imperfect people. Every single one of us can justifiably be accused of not living up to the high calling to which we have been called, of not completely practicing in our own lives the virtues of selfless love, humility, patience, etc. that we so consistently preach as being integral to the Christian life.

But if we are truly proclaiming the gospel, then our own failings and shortcomings demonstrate the truth of what we proclaim, rather than diminish it. The gospel message is not a list of rules that must be perfectly obeyed in order to have life in Christ; the gospel message is a promise of life in Christ because God chooses to give us that life. We who proclaim that gospel are not chosen because we’re better at obeying than anyone else, but because God chose us to proclaim it for his own reasons and purposes. We all are both ministers and recipients of the new covenant, based solely on the grace of God in Christ and sustained by his life-giving Spirit.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you alone are perfect. Work through your people’s shortcomings to demonstrate the depth of your love, that all may recognize and experience the truth that your grace is not earned, but given freely. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.