Second Sunday in Lent, Year A

Inspired by Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.  But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.”  Romans 4:4-5 (NRSV)

The relationship between works and righteousness is one of the most misunderstood relationships in Christendom.  We believe that we are called to obey God, and that God commands us to do good works.  We also believe that obedience to God means we are righteous before him.  However we also believe that we are justified by grace and not by works, yet we condemn those who do not perform the proper works as being unworthy of God’s grace.  How exactly are we to make sense of all this?

When God calls us to him, he calls us not because we have earned his favorable attention, but because we’re in need of his grace.  And when he calls us, his grace and justification come with his call.  His call itself is the gift of righteousness, before we’ve done anything at all to deserve it.  It’s not our due; it’s his generous gift.

Once we’re in relationship with him we benefit from his presence, and he changes our perspective and approach to the world.  We look at our sisters and brothers through his eyes, recognizing in them inherent value and dignity we may not have noticed before.  We work to bring justice to the powerless and love to the despised not because we believe such things will earn God’s favor, but because our dynamic relationship with God has transformed our own values.

While we were yet sinners Christ died for us, and every good work we do now is in response to that gift.

Let us pray.  God of grace, you call us not because of our goodness, but because of our need for you.  Write your word on our hearts, that we may work to reflect your love to all the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Luke 7:1-10

“When [the centurion] heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave.  When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’  And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.’”  Luke 7:3-7 (NRSV)

Worthiness.  It’s a concept that has more power in Christian practice than it ought.  The Jewish elders described the centurion, a Roman soldier, as ‘worthy’ of having Jesus heal his slave.  They based his worthiness on his actions of kindness and charity towards the Jewish people.  In our own Christian practice, we do the same.  We look at people, judge their actions, and determine whether they are worthy or unworthy of Christ’s love and grace.

Yet God in Christ does not judge worthiness the way that we do, and many of those we consider unworthy of his attention are those most in need of it.  People who struggle daily just to survive, who are exploited or abandoned by others, who have never known kindness or charity—these are no less worthy of Christ’s grace than those who are publicly known and revered for their generous gifts and pious activities.

The centurion himself knew that his actions did not entitle him to Jesus’ obedience to his wishes.  He recognized that his own social status was nothing compared to Jesus’ holiness, and he countered the elders’ claims of his worthiness with his own claim of unworthiness.  Rather than relying on his past good works, he threw himself and the fate of his slave under the mercy of Christ, which is where we all belong.

Let us pray.  Merciful Lord, you alone are worthy.  Help us to put good works in their proper place, that we may humbly request your grace in our lives.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Romans 3:21-31

“Then what becomes of boasting?  It is excluded.  By what law?  By that of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”  Romans 3:27-28 (NRSV)

As Christians, we endeavor to live faithfully and in accordance with the will of our Lord.  We study his word, pray in his Son’s name, and seek him in the ordinary places of our lives.  We’re cognizant of the fact that our actions reflect on him, and that others will form an opinion of God based on how we follow him.  It’s a lot of pressure to always try to do the ‘right’ thing.

Unfortunately we sometimes respond to that pressure by putting more emphasis on what behaviors are ‘right’ and ‘Christian,’ and less emphasis on the saving grace of Christ.  As a result, we end up misrepresenting God with the very actions we uphold as being characteristic of him.

God is holy and righteous, and he does desire us to emulate his ways.  However, our salvation does not depend on how well we manage to accomplish that.  Those who are able to follow their interpretation of the moral teachings of the bible are no better Christians than are those who struggle daily with their baser instincts.  Christ’s righteousness is sufficient for all, and his grace covers our sins, no matter how great or how minimal they may be.

Strive to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  However successful or unsuccessful you are in your endeavors, Christ’s righteousness will justify you before the Lord.

Let us pray.  Righteous God, you did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Remind us of our reliance on your grace, that we may not judge others according to our own arbitrary standards.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 51:1-3

“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord.  Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”  Isaiah 51:1-2 (NRSV)

Sometimes our own experiences work against us.  We want to move forward in a positive way, but we’re haunted by our past failures.  We have difficulty imagining we can successfully make the changes that will lead us to health and wholeness, and we doubt that such a thing is even possible.

Yet God has given each and every one of us a history that goes beyond ourselves.  Regardless of our earthly origins and experiences, Christ has given us the ability to claim our place in his covenantal relationship.  And that relationship stretches through time and place, giving us a solid foundation on which to build.  We are supported by millennia of people accomplishing things that no one believed could be done.  We are surrounded by the traditions of people who experienced God’s miraculous strength in their own lives.  We are embraced by a wondrous and diverse family of ordinary people who have experienced the extraordinary grace of the Lord of all.

Be not discouraged by your own experiences and limitations; the resources you have to help you are beyond imagining, and with God all things are possible.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your care for humanity has built a strong foundation for your people who currently inhabit the earth.  Grant us vision beyond our own limited experiences, that we may draw strength and courage from the stories of those who came before us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Exodus 34:1-9, 27-28

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke.’”  Exodus 34:1 (NRSV)

For all that we uphold patience as a virtue, it is a virtue that is largely lacking in the human race.  There are only so many times we’re willing to repeat ourselves to those who disregard what we say.  There are only so many times we’re willing to endure the hurt and rejection of having our treasured gifts spurned or our love taken for granted.

Fortunately the Lord’s patience with us is greater that our patience with each other.  When he led the Israelites to freedom and they complained against him and turned to other gods, he did not forsake them but brought them to the land he had promised their ancestors.  In a fit of anger Moses broke the tablets with the holy words God had written with his own finger at the foot of the mountain.  God patiently directed Moses to cut two more tablets so he could write his words again.

God’s love for us is as great as his patience.  He knows our weaknesses and our limitations, and he will continue to put himself before us, showing us his ways, inviting us to live in right relationship with him, in peace and mercy and justice.

Let us pray.  Patient God, your steadfast love endures forever.  Remind us of your enduring love, that we may know your mercy exceeds our disobedience.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by Genesis 4:1-16

“Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying ‘I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.’”  Genesis 4:1 (NRSV)

As human beings in possession of free will, we have the ability to make choices so detrimental that they negatively impact not only our own lives, but the lives of others for generations to come.

Adam and Eve made one such choice.  They chose to eat the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden.  As a result they were banished from the garden forever, and the rest of humanity would never get to experience the idyllic earthly existence God had created for us.  With their choice they disobeyed God, damaging and thus changing the close relationship they had with their Creator.

Yet despite all that, God did not forsake them.  Though their relationship was changed, it was not broken.  Though their lives were different and certainly more difficult than they had been, the Lord their God still walked with them and was present with them.  Cain was conceived and born after Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, and Eve recognized God’s work in her new blessing.

We can make terrible mistakes that hurt others as well as God, but there is no mistake we can make that will drive God from our lives.  There is no choice we can make that is beyond his forgiveness.  However we shape our own futures, whether for good or for ill, we can be certain that we will face that future with the help of the Lord.

Let us pray.  Steadfast God, you created us in your own image and declared us good.  Enable us to recognize your goodness in us, that we may value our freedom and our futures as much as you do.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Monday, Year A

Inspired by Hebrews 2:10-18

“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”  Hebrews 2:18 (NRSV)

Our lives are comprised of a series of moments.  Most of them are unremarkable.  Some of them bring us greater joy than we ever dreamed possible.  And some of them are so difficult that they seem to last forever, and we can’t imagine that we’ll ever experience anything but misery ever again.  The idea of a loving God seems ridiculous, for no God who makes his people suffer this much could be loving.

God does not make his people suffer.  He does not cause illness or disaster, war or oppression.  Fallen humanity is responsible for some of it and fallen creation is responsible for the rest.  And what did our loving God do when he saw our desperate plight?  He became one of us and suffered along with us.

When God in heaven took on flesh and became human, he brought the human experience into the divine realm forever.  When we cry out in our suffering, we’re not crying out to some distant, untouchable, unmovable observer; we’re crying out to one who’s been there.  We’re crying out to one who has felt the grief of a loved one’s death, who has suffered hunger and want, who has been betrayed by a friend.  We’re crying out to one who has suffered the worst brutality and physical torture humanity has to offer.  We’re crying out to one who prayed to be spared his fate, and who felt abandoned by God himself in his own darkest hour.  We’re crying out to one who had his life snuffed out, and then who defeated death forever.

Human life includes hardships, and God does not demonstrate his love by sparing us the more difficult aspects of living.  God demonstrates his love by sharing our hardships with us, by being present with us when all others would flee in terror, and by assuring us that he will be with us through our current misery and into the glory to come.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, through your Son you have personally experienced human trials and tribulation.  Help us to have confidence in your mercy and understanding, that we may cry to you for help no matter what we’re experiencing.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday in Lent, Year A

Inspired by Romans 5:12-19

“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  Romans 5:18-19 (NRSV)

God calls us to discern his will and follow his ways.  But doing that does not make us righteous before him; he calls us because we are already made righteous.

If our salvation was based on our own ability to refrain from sin and be righteous by our own actions, none of us could be saved.  We all sin every day, and we all fail to do those things God would have us do.  Fortunately our salvation is not based on what we can do; it is based on what God in Christ has already done.

Almighty God took on human flesh and lived on the earth as one of us.  Jesus feasted and fasted.  He experienced all we experienced, enjoyed all we enjoy, suffered all we suffer.  He had friendships and suffered betrayal.  He was treated with respect and scorn.  He lived and he died.  And he did all this while living righteously and without sin before his Father.  He was the best example of what humanity can be, and his righteousness extends to us all.

We do not need to prove our worthiness to God; Christ is worthy, and through his grace our sins are forgiven and we are invited into a living and active relationship with the author of the universe.

Let us pray.  Lord of righteousness, you did for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves.  Enfold us within the righteousness of your Son, that we may be free to walk in your ways without fear of failure or rejection.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 58:1-12

“‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’  Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.  Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.  Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.”  Isaiah 58:3-4 (NRSV)

Pious and spiritual practices can be very helpful for bringing us closer to God and opening us up to his will.  However we sometimes forget that those practices are for our own sake, and not for God’s.  Pious and spiritual practices keep us focused on his presence and his will, so that we can better hear and obey his voice.

Instead we put our faith in the practices themselves, and not in the God they’re supposed to point us to.  We treat them as formulas that, if followed correctly, will bring us the divine results we desire.  We disregard God’s presence, do not discern his will, and assume that if we do this, then God will do that.

God cannot be manipulated like that.  He is far more concerned that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly among his people than that we worship or pray in a particular way.  We are welcome to seek his will, but we cannot command his obedience.

Use whatever spiritual practices help point you to the Lord your God.  Discern his voice, obey his will, walk in his ways, and know that you will have his justice and righteousness.

Let us pray.  Holy Lord, your ways are not our ways.  Draw our hearts to you, that we may conform our will to your just and loving ways.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 1, Friday, Year A

Inspired by Jonah 4:1-11

“Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’”  Jonah 4:10-11 (NRSV)

Must one follow the ways of the Lord in order to be worthy of his concern and mercy?  Although some might claim so, the story of Jonah demonstrates otherwise.

Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, which was an oppressor of Israel.  Its citizens were not included in the Abrahamic covenant, and were widely despised and reviled by the Israelites.  Yet God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and prophesy there.  After an initial reluctance, Jonah obeyed.

The story never suggests that God was responding to requests or prayers for deliverance from anyone in Nineveh; he just sent Jonah because he wanted to.  And when the people heard Jonah’s proclamation that Nineveh would be overthrown, they responded in a way that they hoped would change God’s mind.  Nothing in history or in the bible suggests that Nineveh underwent a significant religious or social change as a result of Jonah’s mission.  There’s no evidence of ‘true’ repentance; the king ordered mourning, prayer, and a generic turning from evil ways and violence, and God indeed changed his mind about the city’s destruction.

Jonah, as an oppressed Israelite, was angry about this, believing Nineveh to be unworthy of God’s mercy.  Yet God had labored to create every living thing in Nineveh, and even though they were outside his covenantal promise and ‘did not know their right hand from their left,’ they were still worthy of his concern and mercy.

And God’s concern and mercy are just as expansive today as they were then.

Let us pray.  God of all creation, no one is beneath your concern.  Help us to recognize your care for all people, that we may treat even those we see as enemies as your beloved children.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.