Lent 6, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 2:1-11 

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Philippians 2:3-6 (NRSV) 

We want to be right. We want to be special. We want to be recognized, and admired. It’s hardwired into our human nature. And as the beloved children of God, heirs with Christ to the kingdom of heaven, we do have claim to a certain status.

But Christians who claim an elevated status and try to enjoy its benefits here on earth forfeit their rights to that claim. We are Christians because we follow Christ, and Christ, though he was God, did not claim his rightful special status over us. Rather he humbled himself to be our servant, enduring suffering and death in order to achieve our salvation. His actions demonstrated that he valued our lives above his own, our well-being above his own, and our interests above his own. If we are going to claim to be followers of his, then we must treat every other sinner in this world no less than Christ treated us. We may be heirs with him to the kingdom of heaven, and we may have a certain status because of it, but that status does not elevate us on this earth above others. If anything, it obligates us to a life of servitude to all of God’s creation.

It was, after all, Christ’s servitude to all of God’s creation that made us heirs with him in the first place.

Let us pray. Exalted God, through Christ’s life and death you experienced humility. Enable us to embrace that same spirit of humility before others, that we may be of one mind with Christ Jesus and demonstrate your love to all whom we encounter. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 119:9-16 

“Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.” Psalm 119:12-14 (NRSV) 

Many of us automatically equate rules with restrictions on our freedom. In some cases that equation is justified. Sometimes those in authority abuse their power and create statutes, ordinances, and decrees with the intention of controlling others in order to enhance their own position. As a result, we tend to look at all statutes and ordinances as tools of control by a power-hungry dictator.

But power-hungry dictator is not an accurate description of God. God is, as the psalmist says, blessed, and all statutes, ordinances, and decrees that come from him are equally blessed. To follow the statutes of the Lord is to live a blessed life, one governed by love, mercy, patience, and justice. Abandoning those statutes in order to exercise our freedom selfishly is to abandon riches for dross, gold for tin. In order to be blessed, we must follow the ordinances of the Blessed One. Such obedience, far from being restrictive, is the best exercise of our freedom in which we can engage.

Let us pray. Blessed Lord, you are good, and all that comes from you is good. Enable us to delight in your ways, that we may live the blessed lives you will for us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 2:14-24 

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” Acts 2:22-24 (NRSV) 

Sometimes it may seem as though the powers against God are winning. The priorities of self seem to have more support and acceptance than the priorities of God, and those working to defeat injustice and cruelty in the world seem thwarted at every turn.

But this world was created by God for us, and we were created by God for God. Nothing is happening outside of God’s foreknowledge, and nothing can happen that will thwart God’s ultimate will for his creation. Even the death of Jesus at the hands of ‘those outside the law’ could not thwart God’s plan for salvation, and he did the impossible and raised him up, freeing him from death’s power, because it was not God’s will for his Son to be held by that power.

No matter how much it may seem that God is losing the battle, know that it’s impossible for God to lose. Whatever happens, God will turn it around and make it his victory, just as he turned the crucifixion of his Son into his victory of life over death.

Let us pray. Omnipotent God, you have power over all things. Grant us the patience to wait on you, that we may trust in your goodness in the face of selfishness, apathy, and evil. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Monday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

“Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NRSV)

Ministers of the gospel, whether formally ordained or just someone proclaiming his or her own faith, are imperfect people. Every single one of us can justifiably be accused of not living up to the high calling to which we have been called, of not completely practicing in our own lives the virtues of selfless love, humility, patience, etc. that we consistently preach as being integral to the Christian life.

But if we are truly proclaiming the gospel, then our own failings and shortcomings demonstrate the truth of what we proclaim, rather than diminish it. The gospel message is not a list of rules that must be perfectly obeyed in order to have life in Christ; the gospel message is a promise of life in Christ because God chooses to give us that life. We who proclaim that gospel are not chosen because we’re better at obeying than anyone else, but because God chose us to proclaim it for his own reasons and purposes. We all are both ministers and recipients of the new covenant, based solely on the grace of God in Christ and sustained by his life-giving Spirit.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you alone are perfect. Work through your people’s shortcomings to demonstrate the depth of your love, that all may recognize and experience the truth that your grace is not earned, but given freely. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34 

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NRSV) 

There are many Christians who are willing and eager to describe exactly who God is and how to properly be in relationship with him. Some describe a tender and loving God, some a harsh and judgmental God, some an indulgent and permissive God, and some a confusing combination of all of these.

God never intended it to be that difficult to know him. He himself has created us with the knowledge of who he is and what he expects. Most of us, since earliest childhood, understand that if we want to be loved then we should be loving. We recognize that it feels good and things work well when people are nice to each other and fair to each other, so we should all be like that. As we get older we begin to justify ourselves and create systems that put ourselves and our own interests above those of others, making ourselves better and more important. We create rules and ideologies that put God on our side and against everyone else, and we seek to manipulate people’s understandings in order to enforce our own agendas, even at the expense of God’s will.

But God has indeed written his law on our hearts, and he is our God, and we are his people. Seek God in prayer; seek his instruction, seek his direction, seek him. Seek, and you shall find, because he will not abandon us to the false teaching of his creatures. He will guide you and guard you; all you have to do is abide by the law he has put within us.

Let us pray. Loving God, you have created all people to know you and be in relationship with you. Help us to see through the man-made clutter that keeps us from you, that we may rest assured in your everlasting grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Habakkuk 3:2-13 

“O LORD, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O LORD, of your work. In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known; in wrath may you remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2 (NRSV) 

Things seem to have been so much simpler in biblical times. God spoke his will clearly through the prophets and backed up his promises with concrete displays of power. Miracles abounded, and it seems as though everyone knew who God was and believed in his existence. The only problem appeared to be disobedience to God’s clear will. We look at that and we think, if only God were that clear in our lives today, we’d be so much more obedient than the Israelites were!

But it’s said that hindsight is 20/20, and things seem so much clearer and more obvious when we can look back from a safe distance and remove ourselves from all culpability. About 2600 years ago, the prophet Habakkuk prayed a prayer that many of us might pray today: that God would act now as he had in times past, clearly and boldly.

Twenty-six hundred years from now, how might people look back at us and interpret how God is working in our own time? In what ways might they see God making his will known, and what signs of his favor or displeasure might they recognize but we ignore? We change, but God is unchanging. He has proclaimed his will consistently from the beginning of the ages; the details of how it applies to any given time or place may differ somewhat, and our own understanding grows and deepens as we continue to abide in him, changing our perspective or interpretations over time, but God himself is timeless and changeless. Do we really need armies of angels to tell us how God wants us to treat each other and all of his creation? Or do we already know, but find it easier and more convenient to pretend that we don’t?

Let us pray. Timeless God, you desire us to worship you and to treat all in creation as lovingly as you created it. Open our eyes to your signs and wonders, that we might recognize your works in our own time. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 4:14-5:4 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16 (NRSV) 

An old African American Spiritual hymn begins with the lines, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” Simple words, but they convey a deep truth that is key to the Christian faith.

It’s true that in this life we may experience many troubles and trials. Sometimes we’re faced with seemingly impossible choices, when none of our options are morally pure and all of them are bound to cause some pain and suffering for someone. Sometimes the temptations we face are too much for us, and, although we do the best we can, we recognize that our best isn’t very good, and we feel like we’re distancing ourselves from God, convinced that our choices and failures are making us unacceptable to him and unlovable in his sight.

But Jesus sits on the throne of grace. Jesus, who has faced the moral ambiguity we call earthly life, knows in his deepest being the trouble we’ve seen. It’s not with harsh judgment and moral absolutes that he addresses us, but with the compassion and mercy of one who has been there. And where we fail, he triumphed. But he doesn’t hold that over us to condemn us; rather he offers his triumph to us in order to share it with us.

Our weaknesses do not distance us from the Holy One; they are the means by which we may draw closer and recognize his grace for what it is: a true gift of mercy and salvation which we can never earn on our own. Glory hallelujah!

Let us pray. Compassionate God, you took on human flesh and lived a mortal life. Enable us to recognize the grace you extend to us, that we may approach you boldly in our weakness, expectant that you will sympathize with us and empower us with your mercy. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 51:1-12 

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” Psalm 51:3-4 (NRSV) 

The tradition behind this psalm is intriguing. The notation at the beginning of the psalm reads, “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” King David had seduced Bathsheba and then, upon learning of the pregnancy that resulted from the encounter, plotted to have her soldier-husband Uriah put where the fighting was heaviest, where he would most certainly be killed. After all had happened according to David’s plan, God confronted him through the prophet Nathan and accused him. This psalm is David’s response to that accusation.

This confession by David can strike fear in one’s heart, because of its raw acknowledgement of guilt and acceptance of the inevitability of judgment by God. David knows he’s sinned, knows exactly how he’s sinned, is constantly aware of that sin, and recognizes that he has done evil in the sight of the Lord. It’s not a question of if he’ll be punished for his transgression, but when and how.

Yet he identifies his sin as being directly against God—not against Bathsheba or Uriah. It’s not that they don’t matter, or that the suffering they endured at David’s hands is unimportant. Rather, a sin against another person is a sin against God. God takes personally any sin we commit against any of his children, and he will ensure justice, because that is his nature.

Even the guilty can take comfort in that fact. David is the accused, and he knows his guilt. Yet throughout this psalm his strongest request is that God will not withdraw himself from David. He prays to be cleansed from his sin and delivered from his own unrighteousness. He depends, along with Bathsheba and Uriah, on God’s mercy and steadfast love.

Let us pray. God of justice, you identify with all of your people. Help us to acknowledge our sin, that we may earnestly pray to you for a clean heart and for your Holy Spirit to guide us in our ways. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 60:15-22 

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Isaiah 60:19 (NRSV) 

God provides all that we need to survive and thrive, up to and including the very light we see by. Every resource we have comes from the Lord—both the most basic elements such as light, food, water, and materials for shelter, and the ability to process and create more complex consumables. The Lord God provides it all.

But the basic elements are much easier to see than the Lord who provides them, and it’s much easier to congratulate ourselves for our own cleverness at inventing and building things than to credit the One who gave us our abilities. Yet there will be a time when those basic elements will run dry, and our inventiveness will fail. But the source of our being will still be there, and our needs will continue to be met by the same One who meets them now.

Let us pray. Creator God, you are the source of all life and being. Grant us the humility to give you thanks for all that we have, that we may continue to abide peacefully in your loving embrace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV) 

Sometimes it may feel as though the weight of the world is upon our shoulders, and our steps are being directed by necessity alone. There’s too much we need to do, and not enough hours in the day in which to do it all. It may feel as though we’re trapped, that things will never change, will never get better. The endless days of stress and turmoil stretch out before us, interminable, oppressive, and we begin to sink into despair. It feels as though there is no hope.

But there is hope. God is with us in our struggles, and he has given us options. None of the choices before us may be easy, but we do have choices, and we can change the direction of our lives. Everyone has the same twenty-four hours each day; how we choose to use those hours makes the difference.

Much of what traps us has no power inherent in itself; it only has the power we give it. Turn to God, and then through the lens of his love and grace consider those things which trap you. What will happen if you let this or that go? Perhaps a little short-term inconvenience or discomfort, but in the long run it might make the difference between a life well-lived and a life of drudgery.

Whatever the consequences, however deep we may sink into despair, know that God is faithful, and is there with us, waiting to show us the way back to him. He is the one who said to us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Let him give you the rest you need. Turn to him, and let him show you the way.

Let us pray. Tender Lord, you know how burdensome this earthly life can be. Draw us toward you, that we may see the path you have set for us through all the stress and demands of daily living. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.