Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Luke 21:5-19

“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’”  Luke 21:5-6 (NRSV)

We have many opportunities to show our faithfulness to God.  We can build great churches or cathedrals; we can buy religious art or jewelry.  We can create many things that witness to our love and devotion to the Lord our God.

Yet every material thing that we build or buy will someday perish.  Buildings will fall into disrepair or be destroyed by wars or natural disasters.  Art and jewelry can get lost, stolen, or damaged.  The rich and towering monuments to our faith will become as worthless as dust.

But there is an investment we can make that will last forever.  Share the good news.  Proclaim all that God in Christ has done for you, and demonstrate his love and mercy to all whom you encounter.  Nurture the seed of faith that God has planted in every human heart, and trust that the gospel of Jesus Christ will endure as material possessions crumble.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your Word has endured since the beginning of time.  Help us to put our faith in you, that all our efforts may go to proclaiming your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 26, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 17:20-37

“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!”  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’”  Luke 17:20-21 (NRSV)

There are so many things wrong with this world, it’s tempting to just sit back and wait for God to come along, fix everything, and establish his kingdom on earth.  Meanwhile we do nothing but catalogue the evils systems that exploit the poor and vulnerable and wonder why God lets such things happen.

Why do we let such things happen?  We have been saved from sin and given new lives in Christ.  We have been called to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, and that good news is that the kingdom has come near.  Jesus offered relief for physical suffering and dignity and acceptance to those who were rejected by the powerful.  As his followers we are called to do the same to the greatest extent of our abilities.

Jesus looked at the abusive practices of his day and challenged them.  He did not observe them, catalogue them, and wait for his Father to fix them.  He refused to participate in them even when not doing so went against the social norms for his culture.  He was demonstrating what the kingdom of God was like with his words, actions, and choices.

Only God can bring salvation, but we can help demonstrate what the kingdom of God is like, and we can help establish it here on earth now.

Let us pray.  Sovereign God, your kingdom is one of justice, peace, and love.  Help us to demonstrate those attributes, that people may experience the glory of your reign.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 26, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 98

“The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.  He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.  All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.”  Psalm 98:2-3 (NRSV)

Many people try to claim that faith is a personal, private affair.  They don’t talk about their religion; they keep it in its ‘proper’ place on Sundays or at home and don’t allow it to intrude on any other aspects of their lives.  Whether they’re motivated by shame or by an earnest desire to not offend others who might believe differently, they go to great lengths to keep their faith and the God they believe in well hidden from the world.

But God is not content to hide.

At a time when God’s holy covenant was understood to be exclusively with Israel, the psalmist wrote about how God’s victory was on display before the whole world.  The reason for this was not to condemn other nations for their unbelief, but to show them the wonders of God and invite them to share in praising him.  God is the Lord of all people, and all people should have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate his mercy and his justice.

Your faith in Christ is a blessing and a gift, and sharing it with others will not only not cause it to diminish, but will help it to grow.  Your relationship with God might be personal, but there’s nothing private about God’s sovereignty.  His proper place is everywhere, and everyone should be invited to see all that he has done.

Let us pray.  God of victory, you are able to overcome all the elements of the earth that challenge us.  Inspire us to share with the world what you have done for us, that others may recognize your power and trust in your mercy.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 26, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by Romans 1:18-25

“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.”  Romans 1:20-21 (NRSV)

Many people ask the questions, ‘Where is God?’ or ‘What proof do you have that God exists?’  And they ask these questions while breathing the air of our atmosphere that just happens to be the perfect mix of chemical elements to support the unique ecosystem that just happens to sustain life on earth.  The statistical probability of life on earth as we know it just happening by itself without a divine architect is so small as to be laughable.  Yet instead people would rather laugh at the idea that God designed it all and continues to sustain it.

There’s nothing wrong with scientifically exploring the wonders of the universe, attempting to understand the processes by which God established and maintains the heavens and the earth; people have been doing that for as long as they’ve been a part of God’s good creation.  And God’s power is not diminished as we begin to comprehend the mysteries of his grand design.

But beginning with the assumption that all this happened without God dishonors our Creator and limits our own understanding.  Such thinking limits our analysis to mere cause and effect, and diminishes life to nothing more than a bundle of cells that happen to have spontaneous electrical impulses.  God created us to be so much more than that, but without accepting God or creation, we are left with nothing but our own analysis and empty definitions of life.

God created the universe and everything in it.  God created us in his own image, giving us intelligence, curiosity, and creativity.  Only by recognizing the designer in his design can we fully use all the gifts he has given us, exploring his mysteries and appreciating his wonders.

Let us pray.  God of all creation, you reveal yourself in the things you have made.  Give us the eyes to see all you have done, that we may recognize and honor you as we use the gifts you have given us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 25, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 123

“Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.  Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”  Psalm 123:3-4 (NRSV)

One answer to why suffering occurs is because other people cause it.  Greed and self-aggrandizement are useful tools for advancing one’s own power and wealth in this world, and are recognized as virtues by many of those who wish the same success for themselves.  But such strategies usually involve exploiting the disenfranchised while simultaneously blaming them for their own powerlessness.

In fact, blaming the lowly for being low makes it easier for the powerful to exploit them, because such blame serves to dehumanize those who suffer and justify the actions that keep them down.  They’re seen as worthless and deserving of what happens to them, because if they had any value they wouldn’t be so easily abused.  And the circular arguments continue while the powerful increase their power and the vulnerable are trampled and ignored.

Yet God does not view the powerless as sub-human or deserving of contempt.  God lovingly created each and every person on this earth, and he put us all here to care for one another.  When we call out to him in prayer, he assures us of our inherent value and worth, regardless of our earthly state.  And he calls those of us who claim to follow him to recognize the dignity of all those who were made in God’s own image.

God works through his people on earth.  When the poor cry out to God for mercy, he calls his faithful followers to address those cries.  And while most of us do not rank among the most powerful and do not personally exploit the vulnerable, we do participate in the unjust systems that undergird our societies and provide us with comfort and convenience.  Listen to the cries of God’s people, resist the easy path of scorn and blame, and mobilize the whole body of Christ to address the injustice that abounds.

Let us pray.  God of justice, you created us all in your image.  Incite us to action, that we may bring your mercy to those who cry out for it.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 25, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Job 21:1, 17-34

“How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?  There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”  Job 21:34 (NRSV)

Much literature has been generated on the subject of why people experience such terrible suffering, especially those who faithfully follow the Lord God.  Unfortunately most people spend far more time trying to answer the question ‘why’ than simply comforting those who suffer by being present with them in their pain.

Job was a righteous man, blameless before the Lord, yet he experienced a great deal of pain and suffering.  When his friends came to try and comfort him, they tried to explain why these things had happened to Job.  Their answers not only failed to bring their friend comfort, they caused him more pain and suffering, because many of their answers came down to a denial of the truth about the way the world works and/or blaming Job for bringing this calamity upon himself by his own actions or inactions.

Isaiah prophesied that the young woman would bear a son and name him ‘Immanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.’  That prophesy was fulfilled in Jesus, the Son of God, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.  Christ came to save us, not by explaining why pain and suffering occur, but by experiencing pain and suffering with us and for us.

As Christians we do not always have the answers to why bad things happen; we do, however, have the call and the ability to be present with those who are suffering, and the responsibility to not increase their pain with empty platitudes or falsehoods.  God in Christ is with us, and while that may not give us the answers we seek, it can bring us comfort to know we’re not alone.

Let us pray.  God of empathy, your incarnate Son experienced the worst that humanity can suffer.  Give us the wisdom to know when no answer can satisfy, that we may bring comfort with our presence instead.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 25, Monday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Peter 1:16-21

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”  2 Peter 1:16 (NRSV)

Many stories of wisdom, courage, and love have endured throughout the ages and enlightened people for hundreds or even thousands of years.  We can relate to the characters and recognize the timeless truths embedded in the narrative.  The stories are updated and retold, bringing ancient wisdom to modern ears, sometimes changing a bit to adapt to new cultures and societal expectations.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of those stories.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has indeed endured throughout the ages and reveals timeless truths about wisdom, courage, and love.  The person of Jesus Christ is one many of us can relate to.  But the story is no mere narrative; it is a report of actual events, witnessed by real people.

God’s love for us was so strong that he broke into human history and became a living, breathing man, someone we could see and touch and hear, bringing all the majesty and power of the Lord God of heaven into the mundane lives of ordinary people.  He healed the sick and brought dignity to the despised, demonstrating that his all-encompassing love was not dependent upon the judgment or prescriptions of human authorities.  He was killed for his radical generosity, yet death could not contain him.  He rose from the dead and appeared to his followers, commanding them to continue to spread his message.  They did so, and their obedience to the one they saw and knew resulted in the gospel we hear today.

Enjoy the classic stories passed down through the generations; recognize the truths they still reveal.  But proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as the truth: not a story made up by humans, but the history of God’s love and our salvation.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, you revealed your love for us through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.  Embolden us to proclaim your truth, that all may be eyewitnesses of your enduring power.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Inspired by Luke 20:27-38

“And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”  Luke 20:37-38 (NRSV)

Many people go through life happy to live each day as it comes.  They manage their affairs and prepare for their future, but give very little thought to how things might be disrupted by unexpected change.

Others, however, go through life in constant fear of death.  They live in fear of their own death: what specifically will happen to them once their bodies cease to exhibit the signs of life.  They live in fear of the complications death can cause when it claims someone else: the primary financial support for a family, the primary caregiver of a child or disabled person, the primary emotional support for themselves or a loved one.  Death overshadows every aspect of life, its constant threat combined with its inherent unpredictability intruding on every joyful event or hopeful development.

Yet we need not fear death, because those who die to this life are still under the care and in the presence of God.  There is no death, but only the life to come.  The same God who guides us and sustains us in this life we know is able to guide and sustain us when this life is over.

We don’t know what the next life looks like, but we can trust that those who have gone before us live on not only in our hearts and memories, but in the presence of the Author of Life himself.

Let us pray.  Almighty God, you are the source of all life.  Comfort us with the knowledge that life in you never really ends, that we may enjoy your blessings each day on earth and anticipate the blessings yet to come.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 25, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 20:1-8

“[Jesus] answered [the chief priests and scribes], ‘I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’  They discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say, “Why did you not believe him?”  But if we say, “Of human origin,” all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.’  So they answered that they did not know where it came from.”  Luke 20:3-7 (NRSV)

Political expediency and truth do not always go hand in hand.  The good news of God’s grace as proclaimed and embodied by Jesus Christ was a relief to the poor, the disenfranchised, and the powerless.  It was also a threat to the existing power structures.  The chief priests and scribes were the gatekeepers of religious and social acceptability, and they valued the power that gave them more than they valued truth.

When Jesus asked them if John’s baptism came from heaven or was of human origin, they considered their answer according to political expediency: one answer would expose them as having rejected a sign from God, while the other answer would endanger their power and authority.  Never did they consider the question according to its merits; never did they try to discern the truth.  The only answer they cared about was the one that would reinforce their own power.

Political expediency and truth still do not go hand in hand today.  The good news of God’s grace as proclaimed and embodied by Jesus Christ is still a relief to the poor, the disenfranchised, and the powerless, and it’s still a threat to the existing power structures.  Those who claim to follow Jesus Christ and serve as the gatekeepers of our religious and social acceptability must decide whether or not the truth is more important than their power.  We who claim to follow Jesus Christ and operate within those religious and social structures must do the same.

Let us pray.  God of the powerless, you created every human being in your own image.  Empower us to boldly proclaim your truth, that power structures may be changed to reflect your justice and compassion to all.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 25, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 17:1-9

“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.  Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.”  Psalm 17:6-7 (NRSV)

Why do we pray to the Lord?  Because we know that he will hear us and answer.

God is often portrayed as being far away in heaven, separated from all the strife and turmoil here on earth.  It’s true that he does indeed dwell in heaven, but he’s also here, in the midst of our pain, joy, and all our mundane goings-on.  He comforts us in our sorrows, he celebrates with us in our jubilation, and he keeps us going when we’re not sure if we can or even if we want to.

When we call out to our Lord, we can do so with confidence in his presence and in his love.  Sometimes all we have to do is turn our hearts to him, and we’ll realize that he’s already right there with us, saving us even as we seek his refuge.

Let us pray.  God of wondrous love, you are never far from us.  Grant us the confidence to call upon you with expectation, that we may draw ever nearer to your presence and your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.