Advent 3, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by 2 Peter 3:1-10

“This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles.”  2 Peter 3:1-2 (NRSV)

God has acted in certain ways in the past, and has spoken words directed to specific people in specific circumstances.  But we don’t see God doing the same things today as he did in ancient times, and our circumstances have changed a great deal since the days of the patriarchs, the prophets, and Jesus.  It’s easy to dismiss the biblical witness as being irrelevant to our own cultural contexts.

But even though our contexts have changed and some of the words God spoke so long ago no longer directly apply to our own situations, those words and actions are still part of our inherited tradition.  That history helps to inform who we are by reminding us of where we came from.  How God has acted in the past points us to how we can recognize his activity in the present.

Much of the bible is specific to a time and a culture that no longer exist, but it still reveals much about the God who is active in our lives today.  Familiarize yourself with the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and with the commandments of our Lord and Savior as related by his apostles.  While the mechanics of civil society and social norms have changed, the principles of love, justice, and mercy are applicable to all times, places, and people.

Let us pray.  Eternal Lord, you have been active in your people’s lives throughout history.  Help us to recognize your activity in the past and in the present, that we may live in hope for your future.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 2, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Genesis 15:1-18

“[God] said to [Abram], ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’  He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two…When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.  On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’”  Genesis 15:9-10, 17-18 (NRSV)

Most of us are familiar with legal contracts.  They are documents that outline agreements between two or more parties, with the responsibilities of each detailed along with the consequences of violating the agreement.  Usually the consequence is that a transaction will not occur; sometimes there are fines or other financial penalties involved.  Depending on the agreement, punitive action such as prison may result from reneging on a contract.   As serious as these consequences are, they are nothing compared to what God agreed to with Abram.

When God took the form of a smoking fire pot and flaming torch and passed between the pieces of mutilated animals, he was proclaiming that the same would happen to him if he failed to deliver on his promise to Abram.  If he did not give Abram’s descendants the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, then God would agree to be destroyed as thoroughly as those animals had been.

God offered his own self as surety for his promise. 

God did give that land to the descendants of Abram.  And he promised that he would be our God, and that we would be his people.  And when we strayed so far away from him that that promise was in danger of going unfulfilled, God did give himself to us.  He took on our flesh, took on our sin, and provided a way back to him.

God keeps his promises.

Let us pray.  Trustworthy God, you are faithful to your word.  Help us to trust in you, that we may enjoy the peace that comes from living in your loving embrace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 2, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 41:14-20

“When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.  I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.  I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.”  Isaiah 41:17-20 (NRSV)

Why are so many people suffering poverty in the world?  Why do so many people lack the basic resources they need for survival?  How could God abandon them to such misery?

God has not abandoned them, nor is he the source of their misery.  God created the earth and all that is in it, and God has provided enough resources for everyone.  It’s our own greed and unjust systems that cause some to have great abundance, and others to have great need.

If the day were to come that the earth’s resources could not sustain human life, God would cause the earth to produce more.  He has the power to produce new sources of water and natural resources, all with a word, just as he brought all the rest of creation into existence with a word.  But that day has not come.  There is no shortage of resources on earth; there is a shortage of justice and compassion.

Consider those things you want, and weigh them against what others need.  Help to bring water to the thirsty and opportunity to the oppressed.  Help to participate in God’s justice, and trust that the hand of the Lord will do the rest.  All good things come from him; share his blessings with all his people.

Let us pray.  Creator God, you made the earth to sustain all life.  Help us to trust in your abundance, that all may live without fear or scarcity.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 2, Monday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 24:1-16a

“And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor.  The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled; for the Lord has spoken this word.”  Isaiah 24:2-3 (NRSV)

Our societies are built on hierarchies and binary divisions of people.  There are the haves and the have-nots, the leaders and the followers, the powerful and the powerless.  There are many people who are in the enviable position of being able to make decisions that have nothing but positive outcomes for themselves, with the negative consequences generated by those decisions being entirely shouldered by other people, unknown and invisible to the decision-makers.  They believe they are shielded and immune from the struggles of others.

They are not.

Every decision that impacts one person impacts the entire world.  Every decision made helps to shape the societal structures that undergird the entire human race.  Even if we don’t immediately see the effects of our choices, those effects are occurring, and their impact is cumulative.  Eventually they will build to the point of dominating the culture, for good or for ill, and no one will be above those changes.

We are all members of the human race.  We are all citizens of God’s good earth, and we are all created in his image.  We are called to care for each other and for the environment.  And we are all dependent upon the care of others and the support of our environment.  Take care in the decisions you make; consider the consequences and decide if they are something you personally are willing to face, and if you’re willing to subject your loved ones and your children to those consequences.  Because none of us are immune to the consequences of our actions.  We all help create the world in which we live; let’s seek the will of God and work to make it a good one.

Let us pray.  Lord of all peoples, you created us to live in community with one another and with you.  Enable us to recognize that we are all your children, that we may be more aware of the impact of our choices on the world in which we live.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 11:1-10

“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Isaiah 11:3b-4b (NRSV)

Looks can be deceiving, and things are not always as they appear.  Too many times we are misled by carefully crafted appearances, scripted situations, oblique suggestions, and outright lies.  Too many people value their own advantage over justice and equity, and distrust reigns supreme in politics, business, even interpersonal relationships.  This is the way of the world.

But it is not the way of the Lord.

God is not deceived by appearances, nor is he led astray by lies.  God knows the innermost thoughts of our hearts.  He knows not only what we do, but why we do it.  God knows the fear that drives us to attack first, and the insecurity that inspires us to discredit others before they can discredit us.  He knows the wounds we hide behind our tough exteriors, and the desperation that results in our greed and selfishness.

Trust in the Lord’s goodness; let him free you from your self-created prison.  Confess your sins and your fears to him, and let him renew you with his righteousness and justice.

Let us pray.  God of truth, you know us better than we know ourselves.  Enable us to open our hearts to you, that we may experience your mercy and justice.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 2, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 40:1-11

“The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”  Isaiah 40:8 (NRSV)

The world looks very different from the way it did in biblical times.  Even within the bible itself we have stories spanning over a thousand years, with the oral traditions of Genesis predating by several hundred years the Davidic kingdom, which itself predated the days of Jesus by another thousand years.  The patriarchs’ world was much different from the prophets’ world, and even the prophets’ worlds differed according to when and where they were writing.  The Greco-Roman culture of the New Testament would have been unrecognizable to the newly freed Hebrew slaves of Egypt.

Yet through it all God’s word remains.

God’s word is eternal and unchanging, but our world is not.  God’s good creation can accommodate countless cultures, societies, and political realities.  We need not attempt to recreate the social norms of biblical times in order to live faithfully to the God revealed in the bible; God’s word is applicable to all times, places, and cultures.  God has declared that he will be our God, and we will be his people.  Loving him and proclaiming his goodness is not dependent upon recreating a particular political reality or set of social norms; God’s word is constant in an ever-changing world, and his love transcends time, geography, and culture.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your Word was before the beginning of creation, and will remain at the end of all things.  Help us to focus on your timeless commandments of love, justice, and mercy, that we may work to proclaim your grace in our own contexts.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 2, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 30:19-26

“Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more.  He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you.  Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”  Isaiah 30:19-21 (NRSV)

Life is full of difficult decisions, many of them forced on us by a cold and selfish world.  Despite our best efforts, sometimes there are no good choices that would honor God and proclaim his goodness; sometimes we can only choose the lesser of two or more evils, and hope we don’t cause too much harm in the process.  We wonder why God would give us such adversity and affliction, wonder if he’s intentionally setting us up to fail.

Some of the adversity and affliction we face may indeed be from him, for reasons we’re unwilling or unable to recognize or understand.   But much more of it comes from our own choices or actions, or the choices and actions of others, choices and actions that have far-reaching consequences.  Whatever the source of our struggles, God will never abandon us to make our decisions alone.  He will reveal himself through the words and actions of others, proclaiming his grace and mercy in unexpected places, providing his light to lead us through the darkness.  When we are faced with a difficult choice, God will be with us, whispering his will for us, revealing his way.

We may not expect to find God in the compromising standards of the world, but God will always find us in unexpected places.  Even when we stray far away and believe ourselves lost and alone, he will be there, showing us his mercy, and leading us home.

Let us pray.  Gracious God, your love and mercy will never depart from us.  Open our senses to your presence, that we may take our instruction from you as we navigate through this confusing world of compromise.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 2, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Acts 1:12-17, 21-26

“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”  Acts 1:21-22 (NRSV)

We make many assumptions about the ministries people should engage in.  Parents with children in Sunday School should volunteer to teach; professionals in the finance world should serve as Treasurer or on the budget committee.  Anyone with a good understanding of theology and the ability to guide others should attend seminary and become pastors.

But what we know or can see about another’s experience doesn’t necessarily give us insight into that person’s calling.

There were dozens of people who had been with Jesus and his disciples from the time of his baptism all the way through to his resurrection.  They had seen and done all that Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, and the rest of Jesus’ inner circle had seen and done, yet those experiences did not mean that they were to be numbered among the twelve apostles.  Only when a replacement was needed for Judas Iscariot was it even possible for one of them to be considered, and then it was only through prayerful discernment that the remaining eleven were able to decide (presumably with the input of those being considered) who of all those witnesses was actually called to be a witness.

Most of us have a multitude of gifts and experiences, but not all of those translate into callings.  Do not presume to know another’s call, and be open to prayerfully discerning your own.  There are many ways in which to serve God; seek to find the way best suited for you.

Let us pray.  Sovereign Lord, you call many people to serve you in many ways.  Grant us the humility to be open to your call, that we may not seek to fill roles that were never meant for us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 1, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 54:1-10

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  Isaiah 54:10 (NRSV)

We live with a great deal of stress and turmoil in the world.  The things or people on which we set our hopes fail us, and it seems that all we can be certain of is that nothing is certain.

But we can also be certain of God’s love and compassion.  Cultures will adapt and change or die; the face of the earth will gradually rearrange itself, but God’s promises will hold forever, and God’s grace will never fail.

Do not put your hope in something as fragile as a person.  Do not put your hope in something as changeable as a mountain range or as shallow as the sea.  Put your hope in the One who created it all, who has power over the face of the earth and is gentle with his children.  His faithfulness will never wane, and his grace is stronger than our weaknesses.  God will never abandon us.

Let us pray.  Loving God, your love is based on your faithfulness, not our worthiness.  Turn our hearts to you, that we may understand your love makes us worthy.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 1, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by Genesis 9:1-17

“‘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.’  God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’”  Genesis 9:16-17 (NRSV)

As we go about the mundane tasks of our lives, looking at all the suffering and injustice that seem to be the normal state of being for so many, it’s easy to believe that God no longer cares what happens on the earth.  We read stories in the bible that describe an active God, involved in the lives of his people, and we assume that he must have abandoned us to our own devices long ago.

But in one of those ancient biblical stories, God told how he put his bow in the skies as a sign of the covenant he established between himself and all flesh that is on the earth.  What’s most striking about this account is the fact that God didn’t put the bow in the sky for our sake, but for his.  Several times he states that when the bow is in the sky he will see it and remember his covenant.  This means that God is close enough and active enough to know every time it rains on the earth, and God is attentive enough to notice every rainbow that appears as the clouds begin to disperse.

Our God is neither uncaring nor absent.  Our God is the same God who was active in the lives of his people back in biblical times, and he is no less active today.  Perhaps our perspective has changed; perhaps we no longer attribute to God the same things that our biblical counterparts did.  Our world has changed a great deal since then.  But our God has not changed, and he remembers his covenant with us even when we forget, and he remains active and involved in our lives even when we don’t notice or recognize him.

Let us pray.  Ever-present God, you are with us even when we don’t recognize you.  Open our eyes to your presence, that we may experience your love and mercy in our lives.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.