Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Galatians 1:11-24

“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)

Sometimes it seems as though the Christian message is constantly under attack.  Those who don’t believe in Christ point out how biblical claims can be followed to extreme and ridiculous conclusions, hoping to discredit the gospel and those who proclaim it.

For example, if one were to take the Sermon on the Mount literally and apply it universally, everyone who had an angry thought against another person would be as guilty as a murderer and everyone who had a lustful thought towards another would be as guilty as an adulterer.  Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek and give to everyone who asks would dismantle every nation’s military as well as the world economy.  This does seem extreme and ridiculous.

But is it really?  The world today is full of people cultivating angry thoughts against others, and many of them act on those thoughts.  People tear each other down and make themselves feel better by watching others suffer pain and humiliation.  The world today is full of people who objectify others.  Sex has become a commodity to be bought and sold, and individuals are reduced to nothing more than means of sexual gratification.

Standing militaries assume the existence of people who are committing such heinous crimes against others that they must be utterly destroyed.  The world economy is based on the assumption that there are not enough resources for everyone, and only those with money can be secure.  These assumptions make sense in the world in which we live.

But the gospel proclaims a different world altogether.  The gospel assumes the best of humanity, where anger isn’t nurtured, people aren’t objectified, crimes against humanity aren’t committed, and everyone has enough to meet their needs.  This is not the world we live in.  This is not a world we can accomplish on our own.  But this is the world that God envisions for us, and this is the world that Christ can make possible.

Those who attack the gospel attack it from a human perspective, but our gospel is not of human origin.  Humans have such limited vision, but with God, all things are possible.

Let us pray.  Omnipotent God, you desire a better life for us than we can envision for ourselves.  Help us to live up to your expectations, that we may enjoy the peace and security that is your will.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 3, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Matthew 9:2-8

“‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—[Jesus] then said to the paralytic—‘Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.’  And he stood up and went to his home.  When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.”  Matthew 9:6-8 (NRSV)

Some people spend their lives looking for miracles.  They look for dramatic healings when modern medicine has no solutions.  They look for radical transformations of character in those who prey on the weak.  They look for unexpected acts of extraordinary kindness when all hope is lost.

Such miracles happen, and those who are looking for them rightly praise God for his works.  But God also works in smaller, simpler, ordinary ways, inviting ordinary people into his extraordinary work.  And those works of God are often missed.

Death is not an evil to be avoided at all costs, and all of us will eventually die.  The absence of a dramatic healing does not mean God is not working his miracles; the work of those providing comfort and care to the sick is a miraculous work of God.  Those who treat predatory characters with kindness and mercy demonstrate the miraculous power of God’s forgiveness and provide the environment in which radical transformations are possible.  And the unexpected acts of extraordinary kindness are performed by ordinary human beings, restoring hope to those who have none.

Each and every one of us has been authorized by God to participate in his miracles.  What opportunities do you have to demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness to others?

Let us pray.  God of wonder, you are constantly inviting us to demonstrate your power in the world.  Open our eyes to opportunities where we might practice your grace, that more will recognize your miraculous work in ordinary life.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 3, Friday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Samuel 14:12-24

“We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up.  But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence.”  2 Samuel 14:14 (NRSV)

Sometimes it seems as though there is no hope; we have messed things up so thoroughly that we will never recover.  All that remains is day after day of misery, isolation, and struggle.  Perhaps these feelings are in regards to our own individual situations; perhaps they’re in regards to the world in general.  We don’t feel God’s presence, and, given the severity of what we’ve done, we don’t wonder why he chooses to stay away.

But these perceptions are based on incomplete information.  It is true that our days on earth are limited, and that we must live with the consequences of our own actions as well as those of others.  But no matter how far we stray from the will of God, he will never forsake us or abandon us to our own devices.  No matter how many barriers stand between us and him—those we erect and those that are erected by others—he will always work to provide us a path back to him.

When the world lived in darkness and the people had no hope, God came into the world as a vulnerable infant.  He grew in wisdom and power, and taught all who encountered him just how far God’s love could reach.  Then he demonstrated that love by giving his own life on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and with his resurrection, removed the barrier of death from eternal life.

God will not cast us away from him, and should we cast ourselves away, he will create ways to bring us home, and welcome us joyfully when we arrive.

Let us pray.  Steadfast God, you will never give up on us.  When we have wandered far from you, help us to see the path you have provided to lead us back, that we may once again be aware of your eternal grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 3, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by Acts 22:6-21

“‘After I had returned to Jerusalem and while I was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw Jesus saying to me, “Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.”  And I said, “Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.  And while the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing by, approving and keeping the coats of those who killed him.”  Then he said to me, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”’”  Acts 22:17-21 (NRSV)

Actions have consequences, and we sometimes have to live with the consequences of our actions for the rest of our lives.  But even when our actions are horrible, and the consequences far reaching, God’s grace can still redeem us, and use us for his good purposes.

Paul was a zealous persecutor of Jewish Christians.  Jews who believed in Jesus feared Paul greatly, because he was responsible for many of their number being imprisoned and beaten for their faith.  Though he himself never raised a hand, he was complicit in the murder of Stephen.  But when Paul himself became a believer in Jesus, his reputation as a persecutor of Jewish Christians prevented him from being able to effectively witness to them.  They wouldn’t believe him; they didn’t trust him, and they assumed he was setting them up for imprisonment or beatings.

Yet God was still able to use Paul as an effective witness.  Jewish Christians were too afraid of him to hear him?  Then he’d go to the Gentiles, who had no history with him!

God did not make all those Jewish Christians suffer at Paul’s hands so that he could be sent to the Gentiles; Paul could have been sent to the Gentiles without that.  But God was able to redeem Paul and use him for good despite what he’d done. Paul was even able to use his own story of redemption in the service of his witness.

Whatever you have done, you are not beyond the saving power of God’s grace.  And whatever consequences you still face for your past wrongdoings, you can still be a valuable worker in God’s kingdom.

Let us pray.  God of redemption, you know all the evils we have done.  Open our eyes to your possibilities, that we may live in the freedom of your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 2, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Isaiah 56:1-8

“Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”  Isaiah 56:8 (NRSV)

What kind of people does God want in his kingdom?  All people.  The people of ancient Israel had some pretty strong opinions about who would be acceptable to God.  Among themselves were some who were considered outcasts, and the Israelites tried to keep them from the worship assembly.  And of course, those outside the covenant had no place with them, especially those who followed strange foreign customs.

Yet God welcomes those who follow strange foreign customs to his holy house.  God welcomes those outside the covenant to his house of prayer.  And God welcomes those who are considered outcasts by their own people to come and be accepted by him.

God has established his house for all peoples.  Let us be as welcoming to those sisters and brothers who differ from us as God is, and let us be thankful that we are accepted in his house just as we are.

Let us pray.  Lord of all, you have established great diversity in your creation.  Enable us to welcome all who have joined themselves to you, that we may help your holy house to grow in its ability to reach all people.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 2, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Acts 3:1-10

“When [the man lame from birth] saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms.  Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’  And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give to you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’”  Acts 3:3-6 (NRSV)

As we go through this world, we hear a seemingly endless stream of pleas for help.  Feeling called to build up the whole body of Christ, we sometimes respond to those pleas in the affirmative, providing whatever is asked.  But sometimes what is asked is not truly what is needed.  Perhaps the person suffering is not aware of their true need; perhaps they’re all too aware of it, but have lost all hope that it can ever be addressed, so they ask for lesser aid that might provide some temporary relief at best.

That was probably the situation for the man who was lame from birth, asking for alms in front of the temple.  What reason did he have to hope he could ever be physically healed?  Instead he asked for charity, hoping to receive enough that he’d be able to make it to the next day when he could ask again, and then the next day after that, and so on, endlessly.

Peter and John heard his request for money.  But then they did something extraordinary: they looked at the person asking for help, and they saw him.  They took the time to understand this person, understand why he was asking for money, and then used the power they had to give him something far better than silver or gold.  Instead of simply giving him money, they gave him healing, enabling him to never have to beg for charity again.

We will hear many requests for help and relief, and it would be easy to simply provide what is asked.  But what are the true needs behind those requests?  What can you do to truly see another human being, and work with them to address the cause of their suffering?

Let us pray.  God of understanding, you see deep into our hearts and souls.  Enable us to see our fellow human beings, that we may work to eliminate the causes for suffering in the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 2, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Jonah 4:1-11

“But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.  He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD!  Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?  That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”  Jonah 4:1-2 (NRSV)

The first two chapters of Jonah comprise one of the more famous stories in the bible.  God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment against it.  Jonah flees from God and his call, and tries to escape on a ship to Tarshish, far in the opposite direction.  God sends a storm to threaten the boat, and the sailors throw Jonah into the sea, where he is swallowed by a great fish.  Jonah prays to God for deliverance, and God has the fish spew Jonah safely onto dry land.

The story continues with God telling Jonah again to go to Nineveh—the capital city of Assyria, the enemy of the Israelites—and Jonah obeying.  When the people of the city hear God’s judgment, they immediately repent, and God relents in his promise of destruction.  It is this divine change of heart that thoroughly angers Jonah.

The book is full of comic hyperbole, yet it reveals a problem most of us have with God.  We’re happy and grateful for his mercy, love, and forgiveness when it relates to our own transgressions, but when it comes to our enemies, we want God to exercise harsh judgment.  But God does not withhold his mercy and his grace to satisfy our desire for wrathful vengeance on those who have wronged us.  God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Nearly every one of us has wronged someone and is therefore an enemy to them; thanks be to God that he’s not going to withhold his mercy from us to satisfy someone else’s wrathful vengeance!

Let us pray.  God of the nations, all the people of the earth are your beloved children.  Help us to recognize those who have wronged us as our own brothers and sisters, that we might learn to forgive them as you have forgiven us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Galatians 1:1-11

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  Galatians 1:6-7 (NRSV)

There are many people who claim to speak and act on behalf of Jesus Christ.  But when you look at all that is said and done in Christ’s name, you see such a diversity of agendas and priorities that much of it is actually contradictory.  Some embrace what others reject; some accept what others condemn, and it’s all done in the name of Jesus Christ.

It’s true that there is room for much diversity in Christ, but there is no room for such contradiction of the gospel.  Clearly, not everyone who claims to speak and act on behalf of Jesus Christ does so accurately.  Not all ‘Christian’ positions are actually Christian.

So how can we know what is the true gospel and what is a false or perverted gospel?  Paul gives us a clue in his opening words to the Galatians, when he referred to “the grace of Christ.”  The true gospel is one of grace, not of works, not of judgment or condemnation.  The Christian life is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us while we were yet sinners.  Any gospel that contradicts this elementary fact is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Living a life of Christian faith can take many different forms, as everyone is given different gifts and different callings.  But we are all united by a gospel founded on love and grace, and that is the gospel we are all called to proclaim in our own way.

Let us pray.  Loving God, you loved us and sent your Son to die for us before we did anything that was pleasing to you.  Help us to treat others with such unconditional love, that we may faithfully proclaim your true gospel.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 2, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Kings 8:31-40

“[W]hatever prayer, whatever plea there is from any individual or from all your people Israel, all knowing the afflictions of their own hearts so that they stretch out their hands toward this house; then hear in heaven your dwelling place, forgive, act, and render to all whose hearts you know—according to all their ways, for only you know what is in every human heart—so that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our ancestors.”  2 Kings 8:38-40 (NRSV)

When we gather together for worship, we sometimes hear the words, “Let us prepare our hearts to come before God” at the beginning.  How exactly does one ‘prepare your heart’ to come before God?  What does that mean?

Many understand it to mean we must clear all negative thoughts and emotions from ourselves so that we can come before God with clean hearts and joyful dispositions.  But the truth is that we lack the ability to clean our own hearts.  God knows the misery, envy, fear, and other afflictions that sometimes live in our hearts.  And he doesn’t need to be protected from them.  We are encouraged to cry out in our anguish, in our raw need, and trust that God will see the afflictions of our hearts, and bring us relief.

God alone knows what is in every human heart.  That is not a fact to cause fear, but rather joy, for God alone has the ability to see us through the eyes of the Creator who loves us and the Redeemer who died for us.  Wherever you are, whatever you’re experiencing, stretch out your hands to God’s house, and know that he will hear you in heaven.  If you are joyful, he will rejoice with you.  If you are sorrowful, he will mourn with you.  And if you are fearful, he will comfort you.  In all things, God will be with you.

Let us pray.  Knowing God, you alone know the secret places of our hearts.  Grant us the faith to call out to you, that we may experience the intimate love of the One who knows us fully.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 2, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 96:1-9

“O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.”  Psalm 96:1 (NRSV)

Each morning the sun rises, bringing light to the darkness and warmth to the chill air.  Each day is a new beginning, another chance to let go of our sinful ways and live new lives of forgiveness and salvation, made possible only by the grace of the Lord of love.

New day, new chance, new beginning.  The God of all makes all things new.  He renews the earth, he renews our souls, he renews his promise.  Whatever old miseries you may be carrying, turn them over to the Lord.  Let him exchange them for new blessings.

Begin your day with praise and thankfulness for the One who has promised to see you through it.  Let your life overflow with joy for all the beauty he has provided—the light of the sun, the abundance of the earth, the care and compassion of his people.  Let the hope of another day banish your fears and doubts, and know that the Lord of love will conquer all.

Let us pray.  Lord of love, you know the challenges we face on this earth.  Renew our faith each day, that we may recognize the gift of each new beginning.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.