January 5, Year B

Inspired by Luke 6:27-31

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28 (NRSV)

To live a truly Christian lifestyle is to set oneself against the prevailing cultural norms. Prioritizing God above all else calls into question society’s pursuit of material goods, social status, and power, and many who are beholden to the ways of the world feel threatened by Christians, and attack them.

The human response to such attacks is to become defensive, perhaps even launching counterattacks meant to highlight the superiority of the Christian way. But while such responses might be human, they are not Christian.

Jesus was attacked for his countercultural message and actions. More than that, he was killed for them. Yet he knew that fighting back in all the expected ways would be letting the world set the terms for salvation, and the world simply was not capable of achieving salvation on its own terms. So instead he met hate with love, greed with generosity, violence with peace, and, ultimately, death with life. Living according to those values is certainly difficult, and somewhat contrary to human nature, but those are the values that Christ lived by, and Christ is what makes us Christian.

Let us pray. Lord of peace, your gentle and loving spirit defined your earthly life. Grant us the ability to live according to that same spirit, that we may show the world your love on your terms. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 4, Year B

Inspired by Proverbs 3:1-12

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.” Proverbs 3:5-8 (NRSV)

Every day we need to make choices: for ourselves, in our work, for our loved ones. Some of those choices are minor; some have long-lasting repercussions. Most of the time we only have limited information on which to base our decisions, and we’re usually plagued with feelings of doubt as to whether or not we’re doing what’s right.

In truth, we don’t have all the answers. Nor are we supposed to. God has given us wise and discerning minds, which we are to use to think through our problems and come to the best decisions we can. But along with all other information we have, we also have our knowledge of the Lord, and our trust in him.

We won’t always make the ‘best’ choices, but when we recognize the limits of our own wisdom and consider the will of the Lord in the decisions we do make, we can be assured that God will be with us, guiding us in his ways, and helping and supporting us when we have to face the consequences of our choices, both the good ones and the bad.

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you alone are truly wise. Free us from the burdens of our self-ascribed omniscience, that we may find rest in your gracious love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 3, Year B

Inspired by James 4:1-10

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” James 4:1-2a (NRSV)

There’s a great deal of pain and suffering in the world. Some of it is caused by so-called ‘acts of God,’ i.e. natural disasters that strike anywhere anytime, completely independent of any human activity. But much more of it is brought on by us. Wars are fought because of greed, hunger for power and conquest, or hatred. Famine occurs both because of weather conditions and because of corruption in government and agricultural commerce. Disease claims the lives of millions because of inequity in health care and prevention. Broken relationships damage people because of unrealistic expectations or selfishness. And the list goes on.

While it’s common to blame God for much of the suffering in the world, all God is doing is leaving us to face the consequences of our own actions. God isn’t doing this to us; we’re doing it to ourselves. The truth is we’re all in community together, all the people of the world, and until we realize that a crime against any other person is a crime against all people, including ourselves, then we will continue to live in a world burdened with unnecessary pain and suffering.

But recognizing all that we have is a gift from God, learning to be content with what we have, and figuring out how to live within our own resources can create a world in which all people are treated equitably. God’s blessings would be shared abundantly with all people as trade becomes voluntary and mutually beneficial, independence and sovereignty are respected, and all people everywhere have dignity. God has given us the tools and the resources to build such a society; all we have to do is use them wisely.

Let us pray. God of abundance, you have provided your people with all we need. Help us to share what we have, that none may know want, and all may know your gracious love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 2, Year B

Inspired by James 3:13-18

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” James 3:17 (NRSV)

To read the news today, one might believe that one must choose between religion and science, that religious faith and the pursuit of knowledge are inherently contradictory and incompatible.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Lord has graced us with intelligence and curiosity, and striving to better understand the properties and mechanics of ourselves and the world around us is in no way a challenge to the One who created us. However, how we use that knowledge defines whether we are seeking wisdom or self-aggrandizement. Knowledge that doesn’t recognize its limits, or that is used to cause harm, is contrary to God’s purposes. Wisdom, however, acknowledges its limits and uses knowledge to improve the human condition and provide for better stewardship of the world. Wisdom—the proper use and understanding of knowledge—is itself a gift from God.

Let us pray. Knowing God, you have graced us with a curious and discerning mind. Grant us the humility to recognize the limits of our knowledge and what it can do, that we may live faithful lives seeking understanding of your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Name of Jesus, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 2:5-11

“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 2:5-6 (NRSV)

Imago Dei. Image of God. According to Genesis, humanity was created in the very image of God, and given dominion over the earth and everything in it. And things went downhill from there.

We tend to lose sight of the fact that we too are creatures, and that, though created in the image of God, we are not actually God, or even gods. We become drunk on our own power, our own abilities, our own talents, and use the things and the people of the earth to benefit ourselves. It was into this world that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fully human, and therefore, like us, was the image of God. But unlike us, Jesus was also fully divine, and therefore truly was God, equal in every way to the one who created us and gave us what we have. But he did not use that status for his own gain; he did not come to take the world that he’d created and put it back under his own dominion, and then punish us who had abused his creation so grievously. He came to save us, to restore us to the glory he’d wanted for us from the beginning, and to demonstrate for us how we can live human life fully, as human life is intended to be lived, as Jesus lived it.

And the starting point for that is to recognize the limits of our authority, and to reflect the image of God in our lives, without trying to be God ourselves.

Let us pray. Creator God, you created us in your image. Enable us to reflect your glory, that we may be good stewards of the world you have given us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday of Christmas, Year B

Inspired by Luke 22:22-40

“‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’” Luke 22:31-34 (NRSV)

In our faith lives, we sometimes make bold statements about the depth of our commitment to Christ’s ministry on earth. Yet when it comes time to follow through, we find that we lack the courage to sacrifice all we said we would. The price seems too high, the consequences too severe, and we back away from our commitment, denying Christ just as Peter did.

But just as he knew Peter’s weaknesses, Jesus knows our weaknesses as well. Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for his inevitable denial, but rather assured him of his confidence that Peter would turn back to the way he should go, and instructed him to strengthen his brothers as they struggled under the weight of their own commitments to Christ.

Discipleship is not easy, and you will occasionally fail to do all you’ve committed to do. But you are a disciple of the Lord of mercy and compassion, and his grace allows you to turn back to him, receive his forgiveness, and proclaim the good news of his love.

Let us pray. Lord of mercy and compassion, you accept what we have to offer even when it is far short of what you command. Grant us the humility to recognize our own failures, that we may return to you with confidence in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 30, Year B

Inspired by Proverbs 9:1-12

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10 (NRSV)

Want to live a good, fulfilling life? Want to know how to prioritize your values and make wise decisions? The self-help section in your local bookstore is full of advice on just how to do that, much of it contradictory.

In this age of relativism, it’s difficult to know how best to order our lives. But the wisdom of the bible has stood for ages. Turning to the One who created us, who redeemed us, who sustains us, is a good grounding for everything else in our lives. Will we make mistakes? Certainly. But the Lord our God will forgive us our mistakes, and, if we keep our focus on him and his will, will guide us in the way of truth, love, and peace. What better foundation could we build our lives upon?

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you alone know what is right. Turn our hearts and minds towards you, that we may walk in your ways and live faithfully in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 29, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 12:46-50

“And pointing to his disciples, [Jesus] said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:49-50 (NRSV)

Many children visualize God as an elderly man with white hair and a long white beard, wearing flowing white robes and sitting on a cloud in heaven far above the earth. Many of those children grow into adults holding onto that same image, and believe that God and heaven are far away from day to day life. They find themselves unable to relate to such a distant God.

But God became flesh and was born a man. Jesus lived on earth, facing many of the struggles that we ourselves continue to face today. Jesus celebrated with friends, wept over lost loved ones, suffered rejection and betrayal, tried to find balance between taking care of others and taking care of himself, and struggled with obeying the harder obligations of following God. In short, Jesus is someone we can relate to. Even though he is fully God, he is also fully human, and thus the bridge between us and the heavenly Father. While we may struggle to relate to some divine being sitting up on a cloud, that divine being has related to us on our level, in our lives, and has adopted us into his own family.

Let us pray. Father God, you provided us a way to know the unknowable. Help us to obey your will, that we may be heirs with Christ. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 28, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 2:13-18

“Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” Matthew 2:13 (NRSV)

Even as the world rejoices at the birth of the Savior, there is still tragedy, evil, and strife. While some are beginning to take down their Christmas decorations and getting tired of the endless leftovers from their Christmas feasts, others are fleeing for their lives, or burying loved ones lost too soon, or wondering how they’re going to make it through another day in a world that seems set against them.

As the Christ child lay sleeping in his mother’s arms, the powers of this world were seeking to destroy him. This tiny infant had the power to bring about changes that would improve the lives of all, but only at the expense of greed, brutality, and control. This is what Christ came for.

The birth of Christ did not magically remove all struggles from the world, but his coming did provide us with an alternative to the status quo. We don’t have to live enslaved to the greed, brutality, and control that ensures the well-being of a few at the expense of many; we can turn instead to Christ, recognize the value of all human beings, and work to ensure that all receive the dignity and respect befitting of beloved children of God. For that is what the power of Christ looks like.

Let us pray. Savior God, the powers of greed and selfishness have opposed you from the very beginning. Enable us to turn towards you, that we may spread your love and show your mercy to all your people. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 27, Year B

Inspired by 1 John 1:1-9

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9 (NRSV)

We always want to think the best of ourselves. We justify our questionable or even bad behaviors, and we excuse or ignore shortcomings in the name of self-esteem.

But when we do that, we’re projecting a false image of who we are to the world, and we often try to believe it ourselves. But it’s a lie, and we cannot maintain it. Eventually we begin to feel like a fraud, and our self-esteem suffers even more.

One of the benefits of salvation is being freed from living a lie. It’s OK to admit to our shortcomings. It’s even OK to call them sins, because we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us; God’s love is capable of forgiving us our sins and putting us in right relationship with him. And being in right relationship with God can bring out the best in us in ways that projecting false images can never even come close to.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you see us as we truly are, and you love us as we truly are. Enable us to recognize and confess our sins, that we may receive your forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.