Advent 1, Monday, Year A

Inspired by Romans 6:1-11

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 6:11 (NRSV)

With every choice we make, we close certain doors and create certain limits for ourselves.  Even when we make a choice for something gladly and willingly, we also simultaneously choose against something.  Frequently this is not a problem; the path we’ve chosen is the one we want, and we’ve intentionally chosen it over other possibilities.  But sometimes we’re not sure we’ve chosen wisely, and we regret and wonder about the paths not taken. Worse yet, sometimes we don’t realize the possibilities we’re rejecting when we choose one path to follow over all others.

When we chose to accept the grace offered to us in Christ Jesus, we need not fear the paths not taken.  Whatever we’ve done in the past no longer defines us; whatever mistakes we make in the present lack the power to diminish our worth to God.   Each day is a fresh start, another opportunity to proclaim the love of God in Christ in word and deed, using the gifts and abilities unique to us in whatever environment we find ourselves.  Choosing the path of Christ limits us only in the sense that it frees us from the cruel lies and abuses of sin.  Choosing the path of Christ opens up countless possibilities to be a beacon of hope in the world.

Do not believe the lies that sin proclaims, lies about your value or worthiness or identity.  Do not believe that your past mistakes limit your future actions, or that your present shortcomings prevent you from demonstrating God’s perfection.  Christ Jesus is perfect, and through him God sees you as worthy of his love and grace and capable of proclaiming his good news.

Let us pray.  Gracious God, through your Son you have freed us from sin.  Embolden us to embrace the new life you have given us, that we may live fully in your grace and love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 2:1-5

“Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’  For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  Isaiah 2:3-4 (NRSV)

Conventional wisdom has it that peace can only be ensured by a mighty army.  If we’re powerful enough no one would dare attack us, and we can impose our will upon those weaker than us.  We imagine that our military might gives us intellectual and cultural superiority over those we can conquer, and we endeavor to order the world in a way that ensures our own peace and prosperity, unaware or uncaring of the effect of our actions on others.

This is not God’s idea of peace.

In God’s highest ideal, weapons of war would be useless.  Their value would only be in the raw materials used to make them, and they would be melted down and reworked into tools for creating food and providing jobs.  Nations would not need to study warcraft, because such knowledge would serve no purpose.  Every nation would live in the peace that comes from a free and just world.  One nation’s freedoms would not infringe upon another’s, and no government or society would seek to impose its will upon another.  Every individual residing in every nation would be treated with dignity and respect, and God would be the recognized sovereign Lord over all.

This is not the world we live in, but this is the world we’re called to work towards.  Recognize God as your Lord, learn his ways and walk in his paths.  Seek not to conquer your enemy, but recognize your enemy as your fellow citizen, and work to bring peace and freedom to all.  Do this using the tools of love and mercy, for they are far more effective than swords or missiles.

Let us pray.  God of peace, you desire all your people to live free from injustice.  Encourage us to work according to your will, that we may help to make the world the place of peace and justice that you envision.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 1, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Matthew 24:1-22

“As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.  Then he asked him, ‘You see all these, do you not?  Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’”  Matthew 24:1-2 (NRSV)

We look around at all the familiar monuments to our faith and culture, and we have difficulty imagining things could be any other way.  We have our religious buildings, our government landmarks, and countless statues proclaiming our national heritage.  We take our identity from these things, perhaps more than we realize.

But all these things were built from corruptible materials by human hands, and all these things will some day disintegrate and disappear.  What will happen to our identity then?

These familiar monuments can tell us something about where we came from and how our society understands itself, but they need not define us.  Our identity comes from the Lord God who created us, redeems us, and sustains us.  Our identity comes from the God of all creation who lovingly and intentionally fashioned us in his own image and calls us his beloved children.  Our identity comes from the One who was before all things and who will remain when all things come to their end.

Enjoy and appreciate those monuments that speak to your history or your present, but know that you were built of stronger stuff, and even if all those monuments were to be destroyed tomorrow, you would still be known and loved by the One who is everlasting.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, you gave us the ability to create great monuments.  Help us to recognize these monuments only point to the Creator of all, that we may put our faith in the One who will never fail.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 1, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Genesis 6:1-10

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  Genesis 6:5-6 (NRSV)

In the beginning when God formed the heavens and the earth, he took care to create a beautiful world, filled with all the resources necessary for survival as well as well as great beauty to delight human senses.  Once he’d completed everything else, God created humankind to care for the rest of creation and enjoy all the good things God had made.  He created humanity in his own image, blessed with everything we needed in order to walk with God.  He did this not to fill any need or lack of his own, but because he chose to share his great love with us.

And because God chose to share his love with us, he also chose to make himself vulnerable to us.  And we exploited that vulnerability, abused his good creation and all the good gifts he’d given us, and chose to go our own way.

And that hurt God deeply.

God is not some absent creator who got things started and then left us to our own devices.  Nor is he some cold, unfeeling deity watching us passionlessly from far away.  God cares deeply for each and every one of us, and when we incline our hearts to evil and reject the potential he gave us for great love and compassion, he is deeply grieved.  The needless suffering we inflict upon ourselves and others wounds him, because he didn’t create us for suffering.

Consider the One in whose image you were created.  Consider why he created you.  And consider the great potential he gave to you.  Incline you heart toward him, enjoy sharing the love he chose to share, and help stop the needless suffering that so wounds our God and so many of our brothers and sisters.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you created us to be in relationship with you and with your whole creation.  Incline our hearts toward you, that we may come closer to reaching the great potential you gave to us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 1, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by James 4:1-10

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.”  James 4:3 (NRSV)

God wants good things for us, right?  So why doesn’t he answer our prayers the way we want him to?  Why doesn’t he give us the bigger paycheck and greater leisure time?  Why doesn’t he give us more power and respect in the world?  What does God really have against pleasure and happiness, anyway?

God has nothing against pleasure and happiness; he created many good things in the world specifically so we could enjoy and appreciate them.  But he also recognizes that in pursuit of our own pleasure and happiness, we often deprive others of necessities, either intentionally or through apathy and willful blindness to the consequences of our actions.  And while God does indeed want us to enjoy good things, he’s not going answer our prayers for pleasure at the expense of others.

Why do you want that bigger paycheck?  Are you unable to meet your own basic needs?  Then by all means pray and trust that God will hear your prayer.  But if God is not answering your prayer the way that you want him to, then consider the possibility that you may have confused needs with wants.  Those prayers are still useful, because God can use that opportunity to open your eyes to the needs of others in the world.  And though you may not receive what you asked for, you may find yourself receiving something much more valuable: the ability to be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you know our needs better than we do.  Grant us humility and openness to your will, that we may use the resources you have given us to demonstrate your love to the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.