Christ the King, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 1:1-4

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”  Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

In the ongoing debates between the secular and the religious, the argument often seems to be presented as a false choice between having faith and employing one’s intellect.  Some believe that in order to embrace religion and accept religious truths, one must abandon all logic and reasoning, and simply live by faith.  At the other extreme, some believe that faith cannot survive in an environment that acknowledges the validity of discoveries made by logic and scientific exploration.

But one need not choose between faith and reason.

The author of Luke’s gospel was most likely a Gentile who attended a church that had been evangelized by the apostle Paul.  The importance of faith was not overlooked in his community.  Yet despite the fact that he already had faith, Luke still studied the ‘orderly account of events’ that many had already set down, and endeavored to investigate the matter himself in a very rational and systematic manner.  Ultimately he wrote an orderly account himself, for the express purpose that Theopholilus (literally ‘God-lover’) might know the truth concerning his faith.

Luke employed intellect in the service of faith.  The two were complimentary.  Only by fully understanding (an intellectual pursuit) the events that had occurred could his faith be strengthened.

People of faith need not fear scientific reasoning.  Faith and intellect are not only capable of complimenting each other, they’re specifically designed to do so.  After all, the Lord our God gave us both.

Let us pray.  Architect of all creation, you designed us to be rational beings who serve you in faith.  Grant us the ability to hold both in tension, that we may be open to discovering your greatness in ways we’ve yet to imagine.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Isaiah 33:17-22

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.”  Isaiah 33:22 (NRSV)

We like to think we’ve got complete control over our lives.  We’re masters of our own destinies, determiners of our own fate.  We answer to no one but ourselves, determine our own values and guiding principles, and trust in our own wisdom and abilities to meet all our needs and wants.

And then something goes wrong, and we blame a vengeful or uncaring God for our troubles.

We cannot have it both ways.  Either we’re completely responsible for our own lives, or we acknowledge God as our judge, ruler, and king.

If we choose to reject God’s sovereignty over us, then we must willingly accept the consequences of not only our own choices, but the consequences of everyone else’s choices, as well.  If God has no authority over the lives of the people of the world, then differing human ideas of justice and behavior all have equal validity.  Our expectations of agency, justice, and human worth are limited by human imagination and frailty, and when we suffer because of those limits, we have no one to appeal to, no hope for our salvation beyond what we ourselves can accomplish.

But if we acknowledge God as our judge, ruler, and king, then we can recognize the highest possibilities of human potential.  We’ll still have to face the consequences of our own and others’ actions, but we can work to make those consequences positive and life-giving by following God’s principles of love, mercy, and justice.  And when we suffer cruelty or injustice because of others, we can trust that God’s compassion and mercy will triumph.  When we have exhausted all our own resources, the Lord of the universe and Creator of all things will be there to do what we cannot, save us from our trials, and embrace us with his eternal love.

Let us pray.  Lord of all, you desire justice and dignity for all your people.  Enable us to recognize you as our judge, ruler, and king, that we may come closer to our ultimate potential and live in confident expectation of your salvation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Jeremiah 46:18-28

“But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, and do not be dismayed, O Israel; for I am going to save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity.  Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and no one shall make him afraid.”  Jeremiah 46:27 (NRSV)

As we live out our lives in this sinful and fallen world, we will experience periods of suffering.  They may be the result of our own poor choices, they may be the consequences of others’ thoughtless or intentional actions, or they may be without discernable cause.  In any case, most of us are virtually guaranteed periods of suffering, and being a faithful Christian does not exempt us from this reality.

But we who follow Christ and know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through him can be confident that no matter how far we may feel from his presence, our God will never forsake us.  Whatever our circumstances on earth, God is not only aware of them, he is experiencing them with us, giving us the strength we need to just breathe that next breath, take that next step, and endure for just one more day.  For God created us for more than this, and even now he is working to bring you through these difficult times.  He created you to know peace and love, and to live without fear.  He is calling his followers to care for his good creation and bring healing to the world, and he has the power to make all things new.

Let us pray.  God of salvation, you are with your people at all times and in all places.  Help us to be aware of your presence in our deepest need and loneliness, that we may be comforted and strengthened by your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King Sunday, Year C

Inspired by Colossians 1:11-20

“For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  Colossians 1:19-20 (NRSV)

Is God a wrathful God, demanding a blood sacrifice for our sin?  Is his love for us demonstrated by the coldness and callousness of a Father sending his own and only Son to his death?

Many Christians take exactly that view, and while they respond in gratitude to such loving sacrifice, their faith is tempered by the understanding that if God could abandon his own Son on the cross, he’s more than willing to abandon them to their own sin and punishment if they don’t please him.  While the Father/Son language is biblical and accurate, it’s also incomplete.

The nature of the Triune God is relational, which is why we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But while all three are distinct persons, they are also all three fully God.  When the Father sent his Son to the cross, it wasn’t one being sending another to experience something alone; it was God sending himself to suffer and die for our sake.  It wasn’t some innocent victim of an abusive Father being forced into crucifixion, it was God himself willingly taking the penalty for our sin upon himself for all time, so we would never have to.  And when he died, he also defeated death and raised us all to new life, once and for all.

It wasn’t a wrathful God who tortured and murdered Jesus; it was sinful humanity.  But God dwelt fully in Christ, and used that event not to punish humanity for our violence and sinfulness, but to free us from it.  He met our violence with love, substituted punishment with grace, and turned death into life.  We need never fear his wrath; we are invited to experience the depth of his love.

Let us pray.  Incarnate God, you took on our flesh and became truly human.  Open our eyes to the freedom you have given us, that we may worship you without fear or reservation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 18:15-17

“But Jesus called for them and said, ‘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.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”  Luke 18:16-17 (NRSV)

There are many words we use to describe children: innocent, unquestioning, pliable.  These are characteristics that don’t last long into adulthood, and once gone can never be regained.  Nor should they be; functioning and well-adjusted adults need to be wise, questioning, and willing to take a stand.  And God does not require us to disregard our experience or abandon the use of our faculties in order to enter into his kingdom.

What he does require is that we share our responsibilities with him and trust him to do what we cannot.  Another aspect of healthy childhood is the knowledge and understanding that we can’t do many things ourselves; we rely on others to take care of us and see that we have what we need.  We know we haven’t earned good things with our works, but we expect to receive them anyway, because we know we are loved by the adults around us.  That is how God wants us to receive the kingdom.  Expectantly, knowing that we’ve not earned it, but trusting that God wants to give it to us out of his boundless love for us.  If we believe that the kingdom is our rightful due because of what we’ve accomplished, then it’s not the kingdom of God that we seek.

Even if your childhood wasn’t as idyllic as it should or could have been, the kingdom of God is still for you, perhaps especially for you.  God’s love will not fail, and his promises can be trusted.  Put your burdens on him, and he will help you carry them.  God will honor your experience and your questions, and he will receive you with joy and thanksgiving.

Let us pray.  Faithful God, you offer us your kingdom out of your endless love and compassion.  Help us to trust in your goodness, that we may lay our burdens on you and receive your kingdom expectantly.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 46

“Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.  ‘Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  Psalm 46:8-11 (NRSV)

We like to think of God as a gentle God, bringer of peace and tranquility.  We generally choose not to think of him as bringing desolation to the earth, or performing acts of violence.  But the truth is that there are many in the world who benefit from chaos and profit from war, and they are not going to simply step aside in favor of God’s vision of peace.

Those who create chaos are powerful, but God’s power is greater than theirs.  Those who profit from war are mighty, but God’s might is greater than theirs.  God reserves his violence for the instruments of war, and he uses his power and might to ensure safety and peace for all his people.

We need not fear the desolations God has brought to the earth; he makes desolate only those things that injure his people.  We can take comfort in knowing that he is our refuge and our strength, capable of overcoming the chaos and violence of the world.  He uses his power to establish the peace and tranquility for which we long, and he rules us with gentleness and compassion.

Let us pray.  Sovereign Lord, you overcome chaos with tranquility and war with peace.  Enable us to put our hope in you, that your power and strength may be sources of comfort.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Christ the King, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Chronicles 18:12-22

“The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.’  But Micaiah said, ‘As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.’”  2 Chronicles 18:12-13 (NRSV)

There can be a great deal of pressure to follow the crowd.  Those with authority make a show of seeking input from others before they make a decision, but it’s clear what they want to hear.  Those who wish to find favor with powerful people understand this, and abandon the truth for sycophantic advice.  The powerful reward those who feed their egos and punish those who point out flaws in their desired courses of action.  The problem is not with the plan, they reason, but with those who advise against it.

Micaiah was the only prophet in all Israel who spoke the word of the Lord.  The other four hundred prophets all told the king what he wanted to hear, and Micaiah was instructed to do the same.  Yet despite the threat to his own health and well being—he was ultimately put in prison for his words—he held fast to the true prophecy given by God.  The king disregarded his words and instead followed the advice of those who told him only what he wanted to hear, and met his own destruction.

We may ignore the truth in favor of our own desires and ideals, but reality does not change because we ignore it.  No matter how many people we can convince to tell us what we want to hear, events will still unfold as truth dictates.  Whether you are one of the powerful trying to decide on a course of action or someone asked to support that decision, seek the counsel of the Lord.  Be open to hearing his truth, and adjust your actions accordingly.

Let us pray.  Lord of power and might, you created the universe and remain active in the lives of your people.  Grant us the wisdom and the courage to proclaim your truth, that we may work to make your will a reality.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 26, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Matthew 23:37-24:14

“And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.”  Matthew 24:12 (NRSV)

We know that God desires us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him.  Many of us do our best to fulfill that desire and live according to those principles.  But many more people in the world don’t, and the results of their actions frequently overshadow the results of ours.  Injustice is common, apathy and even cruelty towards other people is rewarded, and humility is mocked.  Lawlessness grows, and it feels as though all our efforts at showing God’s love in the world are being wasted.  We want to see some positive results from our hard work, but instead we suffer even more hardship because of it.  Under these circumstances it’s no wonder that so many people give up, conclude that God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care, and cease to follow him.

However grieved we are by the pain and suffering that the people of the world inflict upon themselves and each other, God is even more grieved.  Because he does desire us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him—not for his own sake, but for ours.  Such principles help ensure the health, dignity, and wellbeing of all people, and that is what God desires for us.  When we choose to go our own way and hurt other people in the process, God is deeply grieved.

Do not be discouraged by the folly of the world.  Even when we can’t see anything positive happening because of our efforts, we can rest assured that we are indeed making a difference.  Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God not because the world rewards such actions (it doesn’t), but because the world needs such actions.

Let us pray.  Tender Lord, you desire all people live with justice, dignity, and peace.  Grant us perseverance, that we may not lose our resolve in the face of such strong resistance to your mercy.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 26, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

“If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks?  So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”  1 Corinthians 10:30-31 (NRSV)

Arguments abound between Christians over what constitutes acceptable behavior and morality codes for believers.  Some assert that those who bear Christ’s name and serve as his ambassadors on earth must avoid even the appearance of sin and worldliness.  Others assert that Christ’s grace covers all our sins so what we do doesn’t matter.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

As those who bear Christ’s name, we do indeed represent him here on earth, and—rightly or wrongly—our actions and behaviors will be interpreted by others as reflecting the will and commandments of God.  Therefore, what we do matters.  At the same time, however, Jesus was never very concerned with what the religious establishment of his time decreed as acceptable behavior.  He frequently reinterpreted Holy Writ in new ways that disregarded strict adherence to the letter of the law in favor of recognizing the dignity of every human being.  He prioritized the love and care of others over one’s personal purity and reputation.  His message was that God’s grace is indeed greater than our sin, and we are saved by his grace alone.

We who bear Christ’s name are called to reflect God’s grace in all we say and do.  This allows for much greater freedom than morality codes and acceptable behavior checklists permit.  But all we say and do must glorify God, which means words and actions that harm, exploit, denigrate, or in any way diminish the dignity of another human being are expressly prohibited.

God in Christ came to save the world through love and grace, not strict behavioral codes.  We who bear his name and follow his ways are called to demonstrate those same values.  Let your words and actions reflect the love and grace that Christ showed to all he encountered, and worry not about how the world perceives you.

Let us pray.  God of grace and mercy, you uphold the dignity of all your people.  Grant us the courage to live lives of radical grace, that the people of our time can tangibly experience your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 26, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Ezekiel 11:14-25

“Therefore say: Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far away among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone.”  Ezekiel 11:16 (NRSV)

Sometimes it can seem as though every force in the world is working against us, including God himself.  We feel as though we’ve been separated from all that we hold dear—all our social and emotional supports—and we’re forced to live as strangers in a foreign land.

Yet whether we’re in that situation because of God’s direct will or because of the consequences of choices we or someone else made, we are not truly alone.  There is no place on earth that is beyond God’s care or reach.  Wherever you may find yourself, the Lord your God is with you, and can bring you comfort and strength.  Even when everything around you is strange and unfamiliar, God can envelop you in his familiar love and grace, providing a sanctuary from your daily struggles.

Let us pray.  God of all nations, you are with your people wherever we may go.  Reveal your presence to us, that we may find our comfort in you.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.