Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34 

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NRSV) 

There are many Christians who are willing and eager to describe exactly who God is and how to properly be in relationship with him. Some describe a tender and loving God, some a harsh and judgmental God, some an indulgent and permissive God, and some a confusing combination of all of these.

God never intended it to be that difficult to know him. He himself has created us with the knowledge of who he is and what he expects. Most of us, since earliest childhood, understand that if we want to be loved then we should be loving. We recognize that it feels good and things work well when people are nice to each other and fair to each other, so we should all be like that. As we get older we begin to justify ourselves and create systems that put ourselves and our own interests above those of others, making ourselves better and more important. We create rules and ideologies that put God on our side and against everyone else, and we seek to manipulate people’s understandings in order to enforce our own agendas, even at the expense of God’s will.

But God has indeed written his law on our hearts, and he is our God, and we are his people. Seek God in prayer; seek his instruction, seek his direction, seek him. Seek, and you shall find, because he will not abandon us to the false teaching of his creatures. He will guide you and guard you; all you have to do is abide by the law he has put within us.

Let us pray. Loving God, you have created all people to know you and be in relationship with you. Help us to see through the man-made clutter that keeps us from you, that we may rest assured in your everlasting grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Habakkuk 3:2-13 

“O LORD, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O LORD, of your work. In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known; in wrath may you remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2 (NRSV) 

Things seem to have been so much simpler in biblical times. God spoke his will clearly through the prophets and backed up his promises with concrete displays of power. Miracles abounded, and it seems as though everyone knew who God was and believed in his existence. The only problem appeared to be disobedience to God’s clear will. We look at that and we think, if only God were that clear in our lives today, we’d be so much more obedient than the Israelites were!

But it’s said that hindsight is 20/20, and things seem so much clearer and more obvious when we can look back from a safe distance and remove ourselves from all culpability. About 2600 years ago, the prophet Habakkuk prayed a prayer that many of us might pray today: that God would act now as he had in times past, clearly and boldly.

Twenty-six hundred years from now, how might people look back at us and interpret how God is working in our own time? In what ways might they see God making his will known, and what signs of his favor or displeasure might they recognize but we ignore? We change, but God is unchanging. He has proclaimed his will consistently from the beginning of the ages; the details of how it applies to any given time or place may differ somewhat, and our own understanding grows and deepens as we continue to abide in him, changing our perspective or interpretations over time, but God himself is timeless and changeless. Do we really need armies of angels to tell us how God wants us to treat each other and all of his creation? Or do we already know, but find it easier and more convenient to pretend that we don’t?

Let us pray. Timeless God, you desire us to worship you and to treat all in creation as lovingly as you created it. Open our eyes to your signs and wonders, that we might recognize your works in our own time. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 4:14-5:4 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16 (NRSV) 

An old African American Spiritual hymn begins with the lines, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” Simple words, but they convey a deep truth that is key to the Christian faith.

It’s true that in this life we may experience many troubles and trials. Sometimes we’re faced with seemingly impossible choices, when none of our options are morally pure and all of them are bound to cause some pain and suffering for someone. Sometimes the temptations we face are too much for us, and, although we do the best we can, we recognize that our best isn’t very good, and we feel like we’re distancing ourselves from God, convinced that our choices and failures are making us unacceptable to him and unlovable in his sight.

But Jesus sits on the throne of grace. Jesus, who has faced the moral ambiguity we call earthly life, knows in his deepest being the trouble we’ve seen. It’s not with harsh judgment and moral absolutes that he addresses us, but with the compassion and mercy of one who has been there. And where we fail, he triumphed. But he doesn’t hold that over us to condemn us; rather he offers his triumph to us in order to share it with us.

Our weaknesses do not distance us from the Holy One; they are the means by which we may draw closer and recognize his grace for what it is: a true gift of mercy and salvation which we can never earn on our own. Glory hallelujah!

Let us pray. Compassionate God, you took on human flesh and lived a mortal life. Enable us to recognize the grace you extend to us, that we may approach you boldly in our weakness, expectant that you will sympathize with us and empower us with your mercy. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 5, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 51:1-12 

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” Psalm 51:3-4 (NRSV) 

The tradition behind this psalm is intriguing. The notation at the beginning of the psalm reads, “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” King David had seduced Bathsheba and then, upon learning of the pregnancy that resulted from the encounter, plotted to have her soldier-husband Uriah put where the fighting was heaviest, where he would most certainly be killed. After all had happened according to David’s plan, God confronted him through the prophet Nathan and accused him. This psalm is David’s response to that accusation.

This confession by David can strike fear in one’s heart, because of its raw acknowledgement of guilt and acceptance of the inevitability of judgment by God. David knows he’s sinned, knows exactly how he’s sinned, is constantly aware of that sin, and recognizes that he has done evil in the sight of the Lord. It’s not a question of if he’ll be punished for his transgression, but when and how.

Yet he identifies his sin as being directly against God—not against Bathsheba or Uriah. It’s not that they don’t matter, or that the suffering they endured at David’s hands is unimportant. Rather, a sin against another person is a sin against God. God takes personally any sin we commit against any of his children, and he will ensure justice, because that is his nature.

Even the guilty can take comfort in that fact. David is the accused, and he knows his guilt. Yet throughout this psalm his strongest request is that God will not withdraw himself from David. He prays to be cleansed from his sin and delivered from his own unrighteousness. He depends, along with Bathsheba and Uriah, on God’s mercy and steadfast love.

Let us pray. God of justice, you identify with all of your people. Help us to acknowledge our sin, that we may earnestly pray to you for a clean heart and for your Holy Spirit to guide us in our ways. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 60:15-22 

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Isaiah 60:19 (NRSV) 

God provides all that we need to survive and thrive, up to and including the very light we see by. Every resource we have comes from the Lord—both the most basic elements such as light, food, water, and materials for shelter, and the ability to process and create more complex consumables. The Lord God provides it all.

But the basic elements are much easier to see than the Lord who provides them, and it’s much easier to congratulate ourselves for our own cleverness at inventing and building things than to credit the One who gave us our abilities. Yet there will be a time when those basic elements will run dry, and our inventiveness will fail. But the source of our being will still be there, and our needs will continue to be met by the same One who meets them now.

Let us pray. Creator God, you are the source of all life and being. Grant us the humility to give you thanks for all that we have, that we may continue to abide peacefully in your loving embrace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV) 

Sometimes it may feel as though the weight of the world is upon our shoulders, and our steps are being directed by necessity alone. There’s too much we need to do, and not enough hours in the day in which to do it all. It may feel as though we’re trapped, that things will never change, will never get better. The endless days of stress and turmoil stretch out before us, interminable, oppressive, and we begin to sink into despair. It feels as though there is no hope.

But there is hope. God is with us in our struggles, and he has given us options. None of the choices before us may be easy, but we do have choices, and we can change the direction of our lives. Everyone has the same twenty-four hours each day; how we choose to use those hours makes the difference.

Much of what traps us has no power inherent in itself; it only has the power we give it. Turn to God, and then through the lens of his love and grace consider those things which trap you. What will happen if you let this or that go? Perhaps a little short-term inconvenience or discomfort, but in the long run it might make the difference between a life well-lived and a life of drudgery.

Whatever the consequences, however deep we may sink into despair, know that God is faithful, and is there with us, waiting to show us the way back to him. He is the one who said to us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Let him give you the rest you need. Turn to him, and let him show you the way.

Let us pray. Tender Lord, you know how burdensome this earthly life can be. Draw us toward you, that we may see the path you have set for us through all the stress and demands of daily living. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 107:1-16 

“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress…Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind…Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress…Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.”  Psalm 107:6,8,13,15 (NRSV) 

Psalm 107 praises God for his steadfast love, and for his faithfulness to his people when they cry out to him in distress. But what’s truly amazing is the description of those who ‘cried to the Lord in their trouble.’ They are those who wandered hungry and thirsty in desert wastes, unable to find an inhabited town for help; they are those who had rebelled against the words of God and therefore sat as prisoners in darkness and gloom. They are those whose sinful ways made them physically ill; they are those who were doing business on the seas and were caught in a storm. Some were simply misguided, some were caught up in circumstances beyond their control, and some were willfully disobedient to God, yet all cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

Many people today only cry to the Lord when they’re in trouble, and he’s just as likely to deliver them as he is to deliver those who are in constant relationship with him. God’s love is greater than ours, and he does not hold a grudge when one of his beloved children is in trouble.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. If we recognize and enjoy his steadfast love when he saves us from our troubles, imagine how much more we can recognize and enjoy his steadfast love if we remain in constant relationship with him.

Let us pray. God of steadfast love, you will never forsake your people. Turn our hearts to you, that we may call out to you with praise and thanksgiving, as well as when we’re in trouble, that we may always recognize your wonderful works for humankind. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Inspired by John 3:14-21 

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:14-17 (NRSV) 

John 3:16 is probably the most quoted verse of the entire bible, for good reason. That verse provides the most vital information there is about God the Father and his Son Jesus. God the Father’s love and concern for the world was so great that he gave his only Son, who willingly died in order for humankind to have a way to gain eternal life through him.

But while that verse is usually quoted by itself, the verses around it also provide vital information. The story of Moses that’s mentioned involves people willfully sinning against God, and God providing a way for them to be spared death for their sin. We must understand that we are being compared to those who willfully sinned against God. We got ourselves into this mess, and we deserve death for our sins, but God has sent us his Son to spare us from the consequences of our own actions. Christ’s salvation is not optional; we need him.

At the same time, while Christ reveals our need for a Savior, he doesn’t condemn us for our sin. He didn’t come pointing an accusing finger; he came to provide us a gateway to his Father in heaven, to cleanse us from our sin and prepare a place for us in the kingdom of God.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Those of us who recognize Christ as that Savior must proclaim the good news of salvation to those who have not yet heard or accepted it. Christ did not come to condemn the world, and neither should we, as we all need to look to the Son of Man who was lifted up for our sake.

Let us pray. Compassionate God, you sent your Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. Enable us to show the same compassion to the rest of humanity that you have shown to us, that we may reflect your loving intentions. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by John 3:1-13

“Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’” John 3:3-4 (NRSV)

God created us as intelligent beings, and endowed us with a natural curiosity and the ability to reason logically. However such gifts are only part of what enables us to understand the world around us. There’s much in our lives that cannot be precisely measured, analyzed, or observed, and the language we use to describe such experiences cannot be understood literally.

Nicodemus was a learned man, a Pharisee schooled in the laws of Moses and the ways of the God of Israel, and he was trying to understand who Jesus was. But Jesus’ words and actions defied Nicodemus’ understanding, and when he tried to reason it out logically and literally, he was left with the ridiculous notion of a grown man having to somehow enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time in order to see the kingdom of God.

But the kingdom of God is not bound by the laws of physics, and therefore cannot be observed through scientific study. The kingdom of God is one of those experiences that cannot be precisely measured or analyzed, nor can it be understood in literal terms. But the God of heaven does not leave us to our own rational devices to understand him. God has sent us his Son and his Spirit to reveal what is hidden, and to bridge the gap between our understanding and our acceptance. We do not necessarily need to understand something in order to accept its truth; it just is. And the kingdom of heaven is like that.

Nicodemus wasn’t trying to mock Jesus or trap him with logic; he was earnestly trying to understand with the gift of reasoning that God had given him. And Jesus patiently explained that which cannot be explained, and though Nicodemus probably never did fully understand, he did eventually grow to accept the truth of Jesus enough to risk his own reputation in order to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

Let us pray. Patient God, your kingdom transcends rational thought. Grant us the wisdom to know when to abandon logic for faith, that we may embrace your truth. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 4, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Daniel 12:5-13 

“Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” Daniel 12:10 (NRSV) 

To be a Christian is to be a member of the body of Christ, a part of the whole, and cannot be done in isolation. However it is an individual choice and effort to determine how best to participate, depending on the unique gifts and abilities God has given each of us.

Attempts to ‘Christianize’ a nation or even the world by political mandate and enforcement are misguided at best and dangerous at worst. For a person who follows the letter of the law only to avoid earthly punishment and imprisonment is not someone who is wise, being purified, cleansed, and refined by the Word of God. Furthermore it sets up an artificial dichotomy between good and evil, Christian and unchristian. It also provides incentive for the wicked to not only seek their own interests, but to fight against anything that might be part of the oppressive ruling regime—i.e. makes those who have had Christianity forced upon them enemies of Christ and his followers.

We who follow the Lord of Life are not called to eliminate wickedness from the world. We are called to resist wickedness within ourselves, to reflect the joy of grace received in our lives, and to function together as the whole body of Christ, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in our words and actions. For Jesus came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Let us pray. Lord of Life, it’s your place alone to judge the world. Enable us to follow the law you have written on our hearts, that we may trust you to reveal yourself in your own time and according to your own will to all your people. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.