Lent 4, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 1:3-6

“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:5-6 (NRSV)

We are chosen. We are saved. We are loved. We’ve done nothing to deserve any of this, and there’s nothing we can do to strengthen our claim on God, because we have no claim on God. Rather, God has claimed us.

Why? Why would God choose us for adoption as his children, as heirs with Christ? Because it’s God’s very nature. It was his will to freely bestow his glorious grace upon us, not because of who we are, but because of who he is.

Let us pray. Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ is the perfect Son, through whom you see us. Enable us to recognize your grace through him, that we may accept our place as your adopted children and heirs. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 84 

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84:10 (NRSV) 

In today’s consumer culture, the generally accepted assumption is that bigger is always better. We want bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger meal portions. We want more toys, more choices, and more autonomy to pursue our more and bigger pleasures.

But in the midst of all those choices, all those goods, and all that gluttony, we can begin to feel small, lost, and insignificant. We can be trapped by the sheer number of options, and have difficulty discerning what is truly best for us amid all the noise.

Our God is the Lord of all, and he knows what’s best. He calls out to us and offers us his salvation and his glory. The psalmist understood that nothing on earth can compare to the Lord. Without God we are in bondage, and a single day in his glory is far better than a thousand days spent in prison. Service to the Lord will result in a richer and more blessed life than service to our own sinful desires.

The Lord God is bigger than any other goal we could seek, and obedience to him provides more freedom than any other choice we could make.

Let us pray. Magnificent God, you offer us richness and blessings. Grant us the will to seek you above our own sinful desires, that we may experience the joy and the glory that come only from you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 9:23-28 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Hebrews 9:24 (NRSV) 

The work of Christ was for the sake of humankind, but he did not follow a human script or human rules to accomplish his work. Because he is fully human, we can see what he did and we can relate to him, but because he is also fully God we cannot comprehend the scope of his accomplishment.

We can only act upon what we have been told. God gave instructions on how to build his sanctuary, but that sanctuary is only a pale imitation of his true, heavenly dwelling place. God gave commands regarding blood sacrifices of atonement, but those sacrifices were only substitutions, and therefore of limited effect. Jesus the Christ, son of Mary, Son of God, was able to fulfill the human requirements in the heavenly realm, because only God the Son can truly comprehend God the Father. And because of his sacrifice, humanity and divinity have now been joined both on earth and in heaven.

Let us pray. Majestic God, your ways are incomprehensible to us. Grant us the humility to accept and give thanks to your Son, that while we may not understand all he has done for us, we may yet enjoy the grace he affords us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 3:10-23 

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV) 

God created us to live in community with each other, all of us members of the whole body of Christ, but our value is not limited to what we contribute to the whole. Each of us was lovingly and carefully crafted by the Lord of all, and called holy by the Holy One himself.

Some branches of Christianity devalue the worth of some members—often women—calling upon them to sacrifice themselves and their own well-being in the name of Christian duty or charity. Yet the Spirit of God dwells even in those members who are considered least worthy, and therefore their bodies, minds, and souls must be treated with the respect due to the dwelling place of God. We are called to service to the Lord of course, but we are to serve by valuing what God has given us and using the gifts he has graced us with to build up the whole body of Christ. Destroying ourselves to meet another person’s definition of Christian duty is not a part of that.

The Lord may call upon us to make sacrifices, but we can trust that God wastes no one, and God throws no one away. Those whom he does call to great sacrifice he will first grace with the gifts needed to be able to make that sacrifice willingly and joyfully, just as he graces us with the gifts to do our part willingly and joyfully, and always blessing us and honoring us as his holy temples.

Let us pray. Holy God, your Spirit dwells within each of us. Help us to honor your Spirit, that we may treat all your people with the love and the respect we each deserve. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by John 2:13-22 

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” John 2:13-15 (NRSV) 

Have you ever arrived at church, looking forward to worship, only to be confronted by requests for money to support this or that cause or ministry? Perhaps it was the youth group selling Christmas wreaths to raise money for their mission trip, or advertisements to purchase the latest book by the pastor or CD by the praise band, both conveniently available in the church bookstore. Even though the mission trip is a valid ministry, and both the book and the CD are probably helpful in proclaiming the gospel, by the time you sit down for worship you’re thinking about commerce rather than God.

In Jesus’ day it was expected for Jews from all over to travel to Jerusalem for Passover. It was also expected (biblically mandated) that ritual sacrifices would be made as part of the Passover observance. Of course, people traveling from great distances would have found it difficult to bring the animals they were to sacrifice along with them, so they would have needed to purchase them in Jerusalem. The money changers provided the valuable service of converting the travelers’ foreign currency into local currency, which they could then use to purchase the cattle, sheep, and doves necessary for their expected ritual sacrifices. With all of that available right there in the temple, the travelers were better able to focus on their Passover observance.

At least, that’s probably how the logic went. Except Jesus didn’t see it that way. He forcibly drove the animals, those selling them, and the money changers out of the temple. While he didn’t condemn them for what they were doing, he did condemn them for where they were doing it. A house of worship is a place to worship. Whatever commercial transactions might be helpful or even necessary for making that worship possible must be done at another time in another place. Does that make things a little more complicated? Possibly. But approaching the Lord God in prayer and devotion is not complicated, and shouldn’t be made so by the presence of financial expectations standing between the worshiper and the place of worship.

Let us pray. Holy Lord, you desire worship and not sacrifices. Help us to keep our worship of you unencumbered by logistical considerations, that none may ever believe that access to you is for sale. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 19:16-25 

“Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.” Exodus 19:17-18 (NRSV)

When we seek God, what do we expect to find? When we approach the holy Lord in prayer, how do we expect him to reveal his answer?

It seems as though the days of fiery mountains, pillars of smoke, and burning bushes are long past, and we must find God instead in the still, small voices, or else working in and through ordinary events and people. But despite his current tendency toward subtlety, this is the same Lord God who descended in fire upon Mount Sinai, spoke to Moses in thunder, and warned that anyone who was not properly consecrated and attempted to break through the barriers he had established so they could get a look at God would be killed. God has since removed many of the barriers between us and him, and we have been consecrated by his Son, but he is still not to be approached lightly. The God who cares enough to work through ordinary events and people, and who speaks to us in a still, small voice, is also the God who is capable of shaking mountains and revealing himself through fire, smoke, and thunder. The God who loved us enough to give his Son to die for us is the same God who conquered death itself.

Whatever we expect to find when we seek God, we can be certain that he is capable of accomplishing whatever he wills to accomplish.

Let us pray. God of power and might, you are indeed holy and your presence is awesome. Help us to approach you with honor and humility, that we might remember all your works and all that you are capable of as we bring our hopes and concerns to you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 19 

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:7-10 (NRSV)

In much of the world today, following the law of the Lord is viewed—at best—as a hindrance to worldly success, or—at worst—as a miserable, dour, severe existence devoid of any pleasure or satisfaction. In the first case, pursuing justice, equity, charity, and mercy before one’s own personal interests tends to limit monetary gain and dilutes one’s personal power, since the needs of others are of higher concern than the bottom line and mercy is frequently equated with weakness. In the second case, many Christians throughout history have lost sight of God’s grace and become so concerned with personal purity and piety that they have failed to experience the joy of creation, and have sat in judgment over anyone who fell short of their definition of faithful.

But imagine a world in which you never have to worry about being cheated, or scammed, or taken advantage of. Imagine a world in which you could trust whomever you’re dealing with to be as concerned with your welfare as they are their own. Imagine a world in which all people are equal in inherent worth, where mistakes are forgiven, where the community looks out for each of its members, and where all actions are performed out of genuine love. This is what the world would look like if the law of the Lord were universally followed. This is the world that God created for us and desires for us.

Let us pray. Perfect and righteous God, you desire good things for all your people. Grant us the humility to seek your ways above our own, that our lives may reflect your love and your goodness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 3, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 19:1-9a 

“Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5-6 (NRSV) 

All the world, everyone and everything in it, belongs to God. It’s easy to forget that when so many people and systems seem to work against the will of the Lord, but the fact remains. God is everywhere, with everyone, engaged with everything.

But those who keep his covenant have a special relationship with God. First offered to the Israelites after they were rescued from their bondage in Egypt, the love of the Son later expanded that offer to those outside of Israel. Out of the whole earth, those who obey his voice and keep his covenant are the treasured possession of the Lord, a priestly kingdom and a holy nation, transcending geographical borders, cultural identity, political ideologies, even chronological time itself.

But such a relationship is not a cause for self-righteousness. It’s a call to action, a solemn responsibility. Being a priestly kingdom and a holy nation means serving as a light to the nations, an important vehicle through which God makes his love and his will known to everyone else. Our status as God’s treasured possession is not to set us over and against the rest of the world, but to demonstrate for all the glory and the honor that come with obeying God’s voice and keeping his covenant, a covenant that is still open to all who believe.

Let us pray. Transcendent God, you desire all the world to know you and obey your voice. Enable us to keep your covenant, that we may be a light to the nations and thus proclaim your holy name. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by John 12:36-43 

“Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in [Jesus]. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.” John 12:42-43 (NRSV) 

Many are the verses that speak of the remnant, the few, the faithful minority who live according to the Word of God. Those who are truly followers of Christ have always found themselves set against the dominant values of society, regardless of where or when they may have lived. Christians have always had to choose between the expediency of conforming to the prevailing culture, or the ostracism of conforming to the will of Christ.

The situation today is no different. The values of the world are in direct opposition to the values of Christ. Love, charity, forgiveness, and moderation must take the place of calculated posturing, self-aggrandizement, vendetta, and self-indulgence. Those who try to ‘be in the world but not of the world’ find themselves continually surrounded by those who will mock and scorn them, if not outright attack them. It’s tempting to take the path of expediency and avoid the rejection that comes with being a vocal follower of Christ. It’s tempting to enjoy the immediate validation of society rather than wait for the much greater validation of the Lord of all.

But that’s not how we’re called to live. We are told, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” How can a person believe in someone they’ve never even heard of? If Christians refuse to proclaim the good news of salvation by confessing Christ as Lord, how can others come to know him? God cares for us individually, but he also cares for us collectively, and as members of the body of Christ, we are to use the gifts God has given us to further his kingdom on earth. To do otherwise is to abandon to death and ignorance those whose approval we seek. For although God rejects the values of the dominant society, he still loves those individuals who comprise it.

Let us pray. Transcendent God, you are Lord at all times and in all places. Embolden us to confess your name, that all may come to believe in you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV) 

It’s not uncommon for nonbelievers to demand proof of God’s existence if they’re to consider religion a valid pursuit. Logically speaking, it’s much easier to prove a positive than a negative—therefore it’s up to Christians to prove there is a God, rather than for atheists to prove there isn’t.

It’s an unwinnable argument for Christians, because faith is by definition something that cannot be proven. But a life lived solely according to proven facts is an empty one indeed.

Can two adults who believe that they love each other acquire the necessary proof that their marriage will survive all hardships and remain intact? There’s so much evidence to the contrary. Can a couple prove that a child they conceive will be born healthy and grow to adulthood? So many children do not. Can anyone prove that living according to a set formula will ensure good health, happiness, and prosperity? There are so many factors working against those ambitions. For a person to live a life without faith, he or she must forgo all relationships, all risks, all attempts at fulfillment or engagement with the world, because too much cannot be proven and can only be taken on faith.

Yet for someone who has the assurance of things only hoped for and is convinced of the truth of things not yet seen or experienced, the world is a much less frightening place. There’s reason to believe that the unknown can become known, that the odds can be beaten, that love can and will prevail in the face of apathy and hate. For such was the life of Christ, who made the unknowable God known, saved humanity from the depths of its sin, and did so through a love of the highest order. Trying to live a fulfilling life in the absence of that guiding principle is too much of a stretch for me; I’d rather have faith.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you defy easy definitions and simple explanations. Grant us the faith to trust in your love, that we may fully engage in your creation and live the enriched lives you have called us to lead. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.