Lent 2, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Genesis 21:1-7

“The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.” Genesis 21:1-2 (NRSV)

The Lord has promised us many things. He has promised to be with us, to deliver us, to save us. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to see how God can keep his promises—everything seems to be going against the will of the Lord, and it seems as though God is taking too long to come through.

When Abraham was seventy-five years old, and his wife Sarah was sixty-five, God called Abraham away from his father’s house. God promised to make of him a great nation, even though Abraham and Sarah were childless. Abraham followed where God led, but they remained childless, despite God’s restating his promise to Abraham several times. After eleven years of waiting for the Lord to deliver, Sarah and Abraham decided to take matters into their own hands, and tried to give Abraham offspring through Sarah’s slave-girl Hagar. Hagar did indeed bear Abraham a son, but this was not how God had intended for it to happen, so this was not the son through whom God would make Abraham a great nation. It wasn’t until after another fourteen years had passed, when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety—well beyond her childbearing years—that she conceived and bore Abraham the son God had promised twenty-five years earlier.

God has his own plans for us, and he keeps his own schedule. Even though it may appear that the odds against God are growing, God is able to make the impossible possible. Had Sarah conceived at a more traditional age, Abraham and Sarah may have believed that their child was responsible for his own fortunes. But by waiting until Sarah was well past menopause, there could be no doubt that this child was born as the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you have promised your people great things. Grant us the patience to wait on you, that we may recognize your activity within and beyond the natural unfolding of events. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by Mark 8:31-38 

“[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” Mark 8:34-35 (NRSV) 

What does it mean to ‘take up your cross’ and follow Jesus? Frequently this term is used to describe any misery or unpleasantness in our lives that we feel we have no choice in, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with proclaiming the gospel.

Yet Jesus meant it in a very specific way. He’d just finished telling his disciples that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious authorities, be killed, and then after three days rise again. Peter took Jesus aside and actually criticized and reprimanded him for his words.

Peter was trying to protect his friend Jesus, but perhaps more importantly, Peter was also trying to protect his own image of who Jesus was. Peter had just witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. He had just confessed him as the Messiah. And the Messiah of Peter’s understanding would never suffer rejection or death, even if it did mean he would rise again three days later. Peter expected his Messiah to act in a certain way, and when Jesus stated his intention to act contrary to Peter’s expectations, Peter tried to step in with authority and control, and put Jesus on the path that Peter had set for him.

Taking up your cross and following Jesus means giving up all claims to power and control over not only Jesus, but your own life. It’s widely understood that Christians are not to seek out glory for themselves, but we’re not to seek out misery and suffering, either. Rather, we are to seek Jesus, and follow where he leads, regardless of whether we agree with it or understand it, and regardless of the impact on our own lives. Jesus is Messiah, spreading his gospel throughout the world, and it is our calling to accompany and assist him on this mission.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you reach out to the undesirables of the world in the uncomfortable places. Grant us the courage to follow you faithfully, that we may not second-guess your mission and thus set ourselves against you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Mark 8:27-30 

“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” Mark 8:27-29 (NRSV) 

Many people who have heard of Jesus have opinions about him, even (or especially) if they do not know him or believe in him. Some people in the modern world dismiss him merely as an historical figure who—quite by accident—achieved a notoriety he did not deserve. Others consider him a revolutionary figure—again strictly historical—whose teachings might have some limited value today. Still others afford him the status of prophet, or wise teacher, or fictional character, or convenient catch-all for all that is good or ill in the world. And that list just barely scratches the surface.

The non-believing population will always have opinions about who Jesus is, and the non-believing population will usually outnumber the believing population. However the tide of popular opinion does not change who Jesus really is—he is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world.

Our confession of Jesus as Messiah affects how we live in the world, and living in the grace of salvation is all the more important when so many around us are lacking faith. Even if yours is the lone voice confessing Jesus as Messiah, your confession and the life you live as a result of it can change the opinion of others. No mere historical figure or fictional character can inspire such a transformation as the Christian way of life can demonstrate. But because Jesus is indeed the Messiah, he has the ability to transform our lives in extraordinary ways.

Let us pray. Lord our Savior, you came not to save a few, but to save the world. Embolden us to proclaim your name, that others may recognize you as Messiah. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 22:23-31 

“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” Psalm 22:30-31 (NRSV) 

Regardless of how troubled the world may look to us, God will overcome. Despite the seemingly constant barriers and even defeats that appear to get in the way of expanding the kingdom on earth, God has already triumphed. In the grand scheme of human history, God has already delivered his people.

We who are trapped by the inexorable movement of time can only see the tiny sliver of history that makes up our own lives. Yet even as he accompanies us throughout our lives, the Lord God exists outside of time, and in all times. And he alone has full knowledge and understanding of how the story begins, how it unfolds, and how it ends. He will deliver his people. He is delivering his people. He has already delivered his people. We are a delivered people.

The saving act of Jesus Christ was not limited to first century Palestine. The Word made flesh is the One who is, who was, and who will be, and his salvation is for those who came before as well as for those yet to come. We need not understand it, but knowing what we do know of the story allows us to live it, and proclaim the Lord’s deliverance, and be delivered ourselves.

Let us pray. Timeless God, you created time itself. Enable us to trust in your greatness, that we may live not trapped by our own limited understanding, but faithfully in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Romans 3:21-31 

“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22b-24 (NRSV) 

Despite how it is sometimes practiced, Christianity is the great equalizer. It matters not who you are, what you have done, what culture or time you were born in, whether you are rich or poor, male or female, revered or reviled by society; when we stand before God we all stand in the same place. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God, and it’s only by his grace that we are justified.

Such a reality is nearly incomprehensible. In the world, there is a pecking order of people. Whether we use such language or even acknowledge such concepts or not, the truth is that some people are considered ‘better’ or ‘more deserving’ than others. But not in the eyes of God.

Consider the least deserving person you can imagine. God considers you and that person of equal worth. That is a statement about your own inability to earn his favor as well as a statement about the inherent value God sees in both of you as his beloved children. If only we could treat others as God treats us.

Let us pray. Merciful God, there is nothing you wouldn’t do for the least of these. Grant us the humility to recognize that we too are the least of these, that we may accept your grace as the unwarranted gift that it is. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Proverbs 30:1-9 

“Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9 (NRSV)

The so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ claims that if you follow God in a prescribed way, he will bless you with earthly riches and success. At the other end of the spectrum, some Christians believe that only embracing utter poverty will bring one closer to God.

Yet these words of Agur son of Jakeh in the book of Proverbs show a more tempered approach, as well as a recognition of how either extreme can drive us from the Lord our God. He prays that the Lord will give him neither poverty nor riches. How many of us pray that prayer? Yet he prays it because he recognizes that with abundant riches he may begin to trust in those riches as his deliverance and lose sight of the fact that they are a gift from God. And he prays it because he recognizes the utter desperation faced by those in poverty, and fears that that desperation would cause him to lose trust in the Lord and steal for his own survival.

Instead he prays that the Lord will feed him with the food he needs. In other words, he wants just enough to meet his needs, no more, no less, and he hopes to recognize that the hand of God is meeting those needs. How much more peace and justice would exist in the world if we all earnestly strove for just what we needed, and recognized that those needs were being met by God?

Let us pray. God of abundance, you have created enough resources for everyone. Save us from both poverty and wealth, that we may trust in you to provide all that we need. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Peter 3:8-18a 

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV) 

What should a Christian community look like? It has nothing to do with strict adherence to a well-defined and detailed moral code. It has nothing to do with judgment or condemnation. And it has nothing to do with litmus tests for piety or specific spiritual gifts. A Christian community should be where each and every member looks at every other member with love, tenderness, humility, sympathy, and in unity of spirit.

So what does that look like? Let’s say somebody disagrees with some established norms of behavior or opinion. In most situations today that person would be dismissed as wrong or misguided (at best) or ostracized, threatened, or attacked (at worst). But what if the community instead chose to listen to this person and seek to understand why they disagreed. It may be that this person has the eyes to see some injustice inherent in the current practices that have been so normalized as to become invisible. Or it may be that this person simply emphasizes a different aspect of a situation, which changes the entire equation. It may also be that this person genuinely is wrong or misguided, but they’re still a child of God, and thus deserving of love and respect.

Most of our Christian communities fall short of this ideal. But as Christians in community with one another, this is our calling. One person attempting to live according to these principles may encourage more to do so, and we may begin to transform our communities into places of safety and grace that can serve as beacons of hope to the world.

Let us pray. God of unity, you have called many different people to you. Grant us the love and humility to accept all your children and their differences as you have, that we may truly be the whole body of Christ in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 2:1-10 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NRSV) 

Much is made about what good Christians must do in order to be good Christians. To a point, this is a helpful consideration, as we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which is the Christian way of life. But there’s a difference between a way of life and a reason for life. And our reason for the Christian life is God’s unearned gift of grace.

Through no merit of our own, God sent his only Son to die for us. Salvation comes through the grace of Christ. Period. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve that grace. Being a ‘good’ Christian is not what determines our standing before God. Rather, our standing before God determines how we might live our lives.

In healthy human relationships, a person does something pleasing for another person not to compel greater favor or more love, but simply to make that person happy. Such is the way Christians are to approach good works. We don’t do them in order to manipulate God into loving us and granting us salvation; God already loves us and has granted us salvation. It’s in response to that love and salvation that we may live freely for one another, being the people God created us to be, not worrying if what we do is ‘good’ enough, and knowing that God loved us first. Living the Christian way of life is not the price of admission, but is itself part of the reward.

Let us pray. Gracious God, you desire good things for your people. Help us to live in response to your grace, that we may live joyful and peaceful lives, full of the all-encompassing love that comes from you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by Genesis 9:8-17 

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:16 (NRSV) 

As we go about our ordinary days, surrounded by ordinary people and ordinary things, it’s easy to lose sight of the extraordinary God who walks with us. We long to see something extraordinary that reminds us of his presence.

God certainly can and does use the extraordinary to bring our focus back to him, but much more often he uses the ordinary to remind us that he is with us even at the most mundane times. Every time we encounter water, we are reminded that we have died, been buried, and have risen with Christ through baptism. Every time we encounter the ordinary elements of a basic meal—bread or wine—we are reminded that the God of all became man and gave his body and his blood for us. Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, we are reminded that God has promised all the creatures of the earth to never again destroy the earth with floodwaters.

And God himself is reminded of his promises by these same elements—water, bread, wine, a rainbow. These are all earthly elements, and the Lord God walks with us on earth, in our earthly lives, and sees these reminders with us. And it’s his presence with us that makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you have promised us many things, and given us many signs to accompany those promises. Help us to recognize those signs, that we may trust in your faithfulness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 9:2-13 

“And as [Jesus] sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’” Matthew 9:10-12 (NRSV) 

It’s good to remain in community with other believers so you might encourage one another and build one another up in the faith. But we’re not called to form exclusive clubs with strict membership requirements. Jesus didn’t demand people change their lives or confess statements of faith before he dined or associated with them. It didn’t matter who you were—a disciple, a tax collector, a Pharisee, a prostitute—Jesus was pleased to have you with him and treated you with dignity and respect. You didn’t even have to come to him first, showing an interest in him or a desire to change your ways. This dinner party began with Jesus walking along and seeing Matthew the tax collector sitting in his tax booth, minding his own (likely exploitative) business. With no sign of interest from Matthew at all, Jesus approached him and called him to follow. No conditions that he must fulfill first, no threats of what would happen to his soul if he didn’t; just the invitation, “Follow me.” And Matthew followed, and was invited to dinner.

We are to take strength and encouragement from other believers, but we are also called to go out into the world and treat everyone, even the worst sinners we can imagine, with dignity and respect, no strings attached. Experiences of grace inspire conversion, not threats or conditions.

Let us pray. God of kindness, you created every human being in your image. Teach us to show all your children the dignity and respect they deserve, that all may experience your love and grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.