Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Inspired by John 1:43-51 

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” John 1:43-46 (NRSV) 

Many churches have special committees dedicated to ‘evangelism.’ Some even spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on ‘evangelism programs’ designed to bring more people to the faith and (sometimes more importantly) to that particular church. Most mainline Protestants shy away from the idea that each and every one of them should be actively engaged in evangelism because they don’t feel that they have the right training, tools, or personality for it.

But evangelism is nothing complicated, threatening, or (especially) expensive. All it takes is for one who has been called by Christ to say to another, “Come and see.” We don’t have to ‘convert’ people to the faith; all we need to do is invite them to where they might encounter Jesus for themselves, so they might hear his call, too. If our own encounter with Jesus has had an impact on our lives, then the way we live our lives will be argument enough that such an encounter is worth having. If someone doubts us, all we have to do is say, “Come and see,” and Jesus will do the rest.

Let us pray. Living Christ, you call us as we are to follow you. Grant us the courage to invite others to experience you for themselves, that we may help to bring your grace to all who desperately need it. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 2, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 25:1-13 

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” Matthew 25:1-4 (NRSV) 

Wisdom was not a prerequisite for becoming a bridesmaid; the ten were bridesmaids because their relationship to the bridegroom made them so. However being a bridesmaid carried with it some responsibilities (i.e. being prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival). They were given lamps to aid them in fulfilling this responsibility, yet five of them still did not put enough thought into their duties to remember that lamps, something they used every day, required oil.

We are called to be disciples of Christ through no merit or wisdom of our own; we are Christians because our relationship with Christ makes us so. However being a Christian disciple carries with it some responsibilities: growing in relationship with the Lord, and discerning his will and following it in every aspect of our lives. We are given the tools necessary to fulfill these responsibilities (grace, forgiveness, the Word, abundant resources, etc.) but we must still use those tools appropriately.

God did not send his Son into the world so that we could just show up and announce “Present.” God sent his Son into the world so that we might live in active relationship with him, living intentional lives of grace and love.

Let us pray. Gracious Lord, you called us to be in active relationship with you. Help us to be thoughtful and intentional disciples, that we may enjoy the fruits of your love and show to the world what a blessing you are. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 2, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.” Psalm 139:1-4 (NRSV) 

“He knows if you’ve been sleeping; he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” So goes a well-known song about Santa Claus, a character who, in popular understanding, shares many aspects with God.

But while the all-seeing and all-knowing jolly old elf uses his powers for reward and punishment, God does not in fact operate that way. It’s true, as the psalmist writes, that God knows everything about us, even what we’re going to say before we say it, but he doesn’t use that knowledge against us. Rather, the Lord of all creation knows us because he created us out of love, and there’s nothing we need to hide from him.

We don’t need to live in fear and isolation. We don’t need to worry about rejection. There is absolutely nothing about ourselves that would cause God to recoil from us in disgust and loathing if he ‘found out’ about it. There is nothing about us he doesn’t already know, and he loves us so much that he gave his own Son to die for us. God knows you, and loves you. Let yourself be comforted by the complete and total love of God.

Let us pray. Loving God, you know the worst about each of us, yet your love for us is unshakable. Free us from our isolation and self-loathing, that we may experience the life-changing grace that you offer through your Son. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 2, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 10:1-11

“I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards.” 2 Corinthians 10:2-3 (NRSV)

One of the most perplexing aspects of living the Christian life is the concept of being ‘in the world, but not of the world.’ In some ways, the church is nothing more than a gathering of sinners, prone to all the shortcomings and failings of any other organization. Yet at the same time, we’re called to be more. How can we do both?

It’s true that we are sinful human beings and can never be otherwise. However we have also been saved by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and are therefore made perfect in him. This doesn’t mean that we’re no longer sinners; it means that we’re no longer merely sinners. We have also been made saints by the power of God. As such we can no longer allow the world to set the terms for how we live our lives; our lives are the Lord’s, and the terms of how we live them are his to set. And he sets them by meeting hate with love, rejection with acceptance, fear with steadfastness, and transgression with forgiveness. While much of the world defaults to ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ God in Christ did not treat us that way, and as those who name ourselves Christians, we are called to treat each other as Christ treated us. We are still sinful human beings, complete with failings and shortcomings, but we know what it is to be loved and forgiven, and are therefore able to show love and forgiveness to others. This indeed is boldness.

Let us pray. Forgiving God, you treated our scorn with kindness. Enable us to show your love to those who live by hate, that your grace and forgiveness may be known throughout the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Wednesday, Year B

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.” Isaiah 41:17-18 (NRSV)

Sometimes our need can be overpowering. Our troubles surround us, our resources fail, and it seems as though there is no hope, no way out of our despair. No matter how much work we put into solving the problem, no matter how many different ways we try to think up a solution, there simply is none.

Our solutions depend on limited resources, but God knows no limit. In a dry and parched land, God can bring water out of the dusty ground. In a dry and parched heart, God can bring love out of pain and coldness. In a chaotic and strife-filled world, God can bring peace.

Even when we can’t see how a solution could be possible, God can create the impossible.

Let us pray. Omnipotent God, you make the impossible possible. Ease our troubled spirits, that we may trust in you and experience your peace in the midst of our chaos. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 30:22-38

“You shall say to the Israelites, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you.’” Exodus 30:31-32 (NRSV)

Most Western cultures and societies have become increasingly informal over the past few decades. In some ways this is a positive thing, as many artificial or needless barriers have been broken down, and there is more equalization between people. But such pervasive informality has also made everything common and ordinary, with very little considered ‘special.’ Even God.

Jesus came to bridge the gap between the Great I AM and fallen humanity. By intent, Jesus is common and ordinary enough that we can relate to him. But Jesus is also God made flesh, and God is still the Great I AM, still the Most Holy God. The humanity of Jesus made it possible for us to approach the throne of God, but we must not lose sight of the fact that God is not to be approached as casually or cavalierly as we would approach a drinking buddy.

Some people complain that more traditional churches are too ritualistic and ‘foreign’ in their worship. However such foreign-seeming rituals can help to remind us that we are doing something different, something special, something more important than anything else we could be doing. God doesn’t need special oils or candles or clothing in order to be worshiped, but we might need those things to remind us that we are worshiping God, and God is uncommon and extraordinary.

Let us pray. Exalted God, we are all equal before you, but we are not equal to you. Enable us to remember your majesty, that we may understand the extraordinariness of your love and your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany 1, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 69:1-5, 30-36

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.” Psalm 69:30-31 (NRSV)

What do you give to the God who has everything? Everything that exists in the world, everything in creation, belongs to him. What can we give to him that isn’t already his?

Animal sacrifices were a common practice in ancient Israel. Instructions were given on what, when, and how sacrifices were to be made. Yet the psalmist understood that while such sacrifices could demonstrate genuine worship of God, it was the worship itself that pleased God, not the sacrifices. Singing God’s praises and magnifying him with thanksgiving were much more pleasing to him than the empty act of sacrificing an animal.

We no longer sacrifice animals to God. Calls for sacrificial giving involve giving of our time and possessions in order to proclaim the love of God through Jesus Christ, and to help ease the suffering experienced by so many of God’s beloved children. Such sacrifices, when given out of true worship, are still pleasing to the Lord. However it is still the worship itself that is most pleasing to him. If you have nothing material to offer, God still wants nothing more than for you to praise his name in song, and to magnify him with thanksgiving.

Let us pray. God of blessedness, you have given us all that we have, and need nothing yourself. Inspire in us worshipful hearts, that we may treat all in your creation as generously as you have treated us, and all may offer you praise and thanksgiving. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Baptism of Our Lord, Year B

Inspired by Acts 19:1-7

“[Paul] said to [the disciples he found in Ephesus], ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’” Acts 19:2-3 (NRSV)

It seems a little odd to think of believers having never heard of the Holy Spirit. However such an idea isn’t all that farfetched. The number of people who call themselves Christian believers today who don’t understand the basic tenets of their own faith is staggering.

Baptism is an initiation. It does not signify the beginning of God’s work in our lives, because God can and does work in us before we are baptized. Neither is it merely a formal recognition of an existing relationship, because such a recognition suggests some sort of completion. Rather, baptism initiates us into Body of Christ, the community of believers that continues to live in active relationship with the Triune God. And as with any relationship, we must continue to interact with and learn about the one with whom we’ve been joined.

God has given us his whole creation, his has given us his written Word, he has sent us his Son, and he has sent us the Holy Spirit, all of which can help us to know him better. It’s up to us to engage with all those resources so that we can grow in our relationship with him, and enjoy all the benefits that come with a mature understanding of the One in whom we believe.

Let us pray. Living God, you created us to be in relationship with you. Encourage us to learn about you and grow in our faith, that we may enjoy the fullness of your grace and love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Epiphany of Our Lord, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 2:1-12

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” Matthew 2:1-2 (NRSV)

What was it about this star that led the wise men to interpret it as they did? Why did astrologers from the East care enough about the birth of a new Jewish king to embark on a long, arduous journey so they could honor him and give him gifts of great worth? Israel was not an independent nation; it was under Roman rule. What compelled them to seek out this infant king of a conquered people?

The story of the wise men raises more questions than it answers, but one thing is clear: God was working through unexpected people in unexpected ways. Up until the time of Jesus, God’s blessings were believed to be restricted to the people of Israel. Furthermore, according to Jewish law, those who studied the stars for signs were believed to be fortunetellers and sorcerers, both of which were abhorrent to God. Yet here is God speaking through the stars to astrologers who were far outside the covenant of Israel.

There is no limit to what God might do in order to proclaim his love to all his creation. There is no place that God isn’t, no person beyond his care, no way to block his offer of grace. We might turn to the stars rather than the bible for our answers, but we can’t stop God from speaking to us through those stars, because he created them too. We can always choose to ignore him and turn away, but there is nothing we can do to prevent God from reaching out to us. His love for us is that great.

Let us pray. Ever-present God, you created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in both. Help us to see your love in your creation, that we may turn to you and experience your grace as the wise men did. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Timothy 3:14-16

“Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV)

Everything you need to know about the history of Christianity is summed up in this single statement from First Timothy. God himself was revealed in the human being known as Jesus of Nazareth. It was unheard of for the God of all creation to lower himself down to our state of existence, yet out of love he did. Jesus lived a sinless life in perfect unity with God the Father, and was proven guiltless by the Spirit. He was acknowledged and aided in his mission by heavenly beings. The God of Israel was preached and proclaimed by nations other than Israel, and people outside the covenant all over the world have come to believe in salvation by his grace. And the person of Jesus was received into the godhead in glory, forever bringing an element of humanity into divinity, and connecting human beings with their loving Creator in the most intimate of ways.

Without any doubt, the mystery of how this all happened is great. But we do not need to understand how it happened. We only need to know that it happened, and why. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loved us enough to lower himself for us, suffer on our behalf, and ensure our living in active relationship with him throughout eternity, blessed by his love and grace. How is a mystery, but it is what it is, and thanks be to God for that.

Let us pray. Mysterious God, your ways are hidden from us. Grant us a spirit of acceptance, that we may joyfully and gratefully live in the mystery that is you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.