Pentecost 16, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 119:169-176

“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” Psalm 119:176 (NRSV)

For many of us, following God is an important part of our identity. We worship him with a community of believers nearly every week, we pray, we read the scriptures, and we strive to consider his will as we make the thousands of mundane decisions that shape our lives.

Yet despite all that, sometimes we fall away from him anyway. It’s not through lack of knowledge of his Word, and it’s certainly not through an active rejection of his ways. We just get careless once, and the consequences snowball into more and more carelessness, until we find ourselves far from the lives we know God wants us to lead.

But God does not abandon his own. And whether we’ve wandered away from him intentionally or through a series of well-intentioned missteps, God will meet us where we are, remind us of his love and grace, and offer to lead us back to him.

Let us pray. Steadfast God, your faithfulness to us is greater than our faithfulness to you. Remind us of your eternal love and grace, that we may recognize you when we’re lost and be emboldened to return to your fold. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 16, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Kings 13:11-25

“Then the other said to him, ‘I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD: Bring him back with you into your house so that he may eat food and drink water.’ But he was deceiving him.” 1 Kings 13:18 (NRSV)

The man of God had been sent to proclaim against King Jeroboam, and God had given him specific instructions: he was to eat no food and drink no water in that place, and he was to return home by a different route than the one by which he had come. The man of God was obeying those instructions. He’d prophesized as instructed, he’d declined an offer of food and drink from the king, and he was returning home by a different path.

But a prophet in the land heard of what the man of God had done and went to meet him. He is never identified as a ‘false’ prophet, and his actions at the end of this story suggest that had nothing but respect for the man of God. But for his own reasons he lied to the man of God. Perhaps he just wanted to show him hospitality, and didn’t think the prohibitions against eating and drinking really mattered. In any case, his deception had dire consequences for the man of God.

Those who claim to speak for the Lord have terrific influence and authority. They are also human, and liable to substitute their own opinions and desires for God’s. Sometimes they fail to identify the difference, and even believe that their own thoughts, interpretations, and expectations come from God himself.

If you are in such a position of authority, take care that you differentiate between God’s will and your own. If you hear a person with such authority proclaim something that has no support in the biblical witness and contradicts something you know is true, test that person’s claims carefully before you accept them as truth. God’s word is true, but those who claim to speak for God may not be.

Let us pray. God of all authority, you proclaim your will through your Word, your Spirit, and your people. Grant us the humility and the discernment to hear your truth in the midst of all the falsehood and deception that surround us, that we may remain faithful to your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 16, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Romans 3:9-20

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19-20 (NRSV)

Much has been made about the number of laws in the Old Testament and the sheer impossibility of following all of them at all times. For that matter, the behavioral codes cited by the epistle writers in the New Testament are equally impossible to meet. So what is a person of faith to do?

The law shows us God’s vision of justice and equity. It shows his care for the marginalized and voiceless of humanity. It shows how seriously he considers our interpersonal relationships within our families and within our communities to be. It shows us that God’s ways are not our ways. And while it shows us all these things, it also shows us that no matter how hard we try, no matter how well-intentioned we may be, we are unable to live up to this vision.

And in that moment of humility, we are ready for grace.

The grace of God in Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Yet without the law, most of us would believe that we’re capable of fulfilling God’s vision for ourselves and for our world, thus making grace unnecessary. Through the law, we recognize our need for grace. And because of grace, we are free to live into God’s vision as fully as we are able, never fearing that our own feeble efforts will be insufficient. God’s grace makes our own, imperfect efforts pleasing in his sight.

What’s a person of faith to do? Live boldly, work for justice and equity, and trust in God’s grace to do the rest.

Let us pray. God of grace, you gave us the law to show us our need. Grant us the humility to accept your grace, that we may be emboldened to live according to your vision. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by Mark 8:27-38

“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38 (NRSV)

This quote is often presented as a test or challenge on social media platforms, with the implication being that if you don’t publicly agree and share this quote on your own platform, then you’re ashamed of Jesus.

Liking and sharing something on social media has little to do with discipleship, and nothing at all to do with what Jesus was talking about.

In the chapter leading up to this quote, Jesus multiplied mere morsels of food enough to satisfy the gnawing hunger of thousands of people, advised his disciples against following the example of the Pharisees with their incessant testing and demanding of signs from heaven, and restored sight to a blind man. He then explained how the Son of Man would suffer and be rejected, and rebuked Peter when Peter denied that this inglorious and harsh reality could happen to his Lord. Jesus then went on to inform his disciples that following him meant humility and self-sacrifice, just as he himself made manifest. It is this humility and self-sacrifice, and the reality that Jesus represents these things, that he encourages people to demonstrate with their own lives.

If you want to follow Jesus, then put the needs of others before your own comfort and self-righteousness. Feed the hungry, bring comfort and healing to the sick, stand in solidarity with the marginalized rather than the powerful, and don’t worry so much about how the world perceives you on social media.

Let us pray. Humble Lord, you came to earth not to live in comfort and celebrity, but to meet us in our weakness and struggles. Enable us to imitate your selfless love, that others may experience your grace in concrete and tangible ways. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 16, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 21:23-32

“[Jesus said to the chief priests and elders] ‘Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin,” we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’” Matthew 21:25-27 (NRSV)

What shapes the truths to which we cling? What influences our perception of the world around us?

The chief priests and elders claimed to be seeking truth from Jesus, yet they were prevented from seeing that truth by their own sense of righteousness and the political expediency necessary to maintain their positions of power. They were only interested in ‘truths’ that affirmed their own worldviews.

God is the world’s creator, and his view of it is quite different from ours. He knows that his righteousness goes against the world’s values of greed and apathy, and he is not at all concerned with political expediency. He sent his Son into the world to show us his ways, and that event has changed the course of human history.

Let go of your own preconceptions. Risk the consequences of hearing God’s truth. The benefits of embracing his love and grace are far greater than the difficulties caused by rejecting the world’s values.

Let us pray. God of truth, your ways are greater than our ways. Open our eyes to your reality, that we may be freed from the fetters of worldly opinion. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 16, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 116:1-9

“I walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” Psalm 116:9 (NRSV)

Too often our Christian walk is concerned with securing our entrance into heaven when we die. The things and the people of the world are neglected, or at best only considered in terms of how our interaction with them will further increase our treasures in heaven. The value of this life is diminished, and treated as nothing more than a staging area where we prepare for the life to come.

Yet God gave us this life as a gift. We are blessed to live in God’s good creation, surrounded by his handiwork and in the company of his people, all of whom were created in his own image. And the Lord himself walks with us in this life, working through his people. We don’t need to wait until our death to see the Lord our God—he is here now! His kingdom is at hand, and we are heirs with Christ by grace.

There is glory in the life to come, but let that not outshine the glory of God’s sustaining presence in the midst of our mundane lives. He is not waiting for us in some far off place, but walks with us each day, sustaining and empowering us for the demands of this life.

Let us pray. Living God, your kingdom has no end and even encompasses our current existence. Open our eyes to your presence with us, that we may recognize the glorious gifts we have in this life. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 16, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Joshua 2:1-14

“Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there. The king of Jericho was told, ‘Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.’ Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.’ But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, ‘True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.’” Joshua 2:1-5 (NRSV)

As complicated as our lives can be, we often find it easier to categorize things according to whether we find them to be good or bad, desirable or undesirable, righteous or evil. Sometimes it seems pretty obvious which category a person or behavior should go into; sometimes it’s a little more difficult. But we categorize them nonetheless, and then we respond to them based on our preconceived judgment.

The people of God are righteous. Prostitutes are bad. Lying is evil. These statements seem obvious. Yet the people of God in this text chose to spend the night at the house of a prostitute, a place godly people are expected to avoid and condemn. Rahab the prostitute is the hero of this story, hiding the Israelite spies from her own king and recognizing that God was with them. She lied to the authorities in order to protect God’s people and ensure the success of their mission. Our convenient categorization has failed us.

God is not restrained by our categories. God is not limited by our judgments. God can and does work through all people in the world, regardless of what the world thinks of them, bringing about his kingdom, and extending his mercy and his grace to all.

Let us pray. God of action, you created the world and all those in it. Help us to look past our own judgments and prejudices, that we might recognize your startling work in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 15, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 17:14-21

“When they came to the crowd, a man came to [Jesus], knelt before him, and said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’” Matthew 17:14-16 (NRSV)

Imagine a the anguish of a father, watching his son suffer day after day, helpless to do anything but watch and try to prevent him from doing too much damage to himself. The boy is described as being an epileptic, but in biblical times that was not a medical diagnosis. Rather, it was a description of his behavior: something seemed to take hold of or seize him. This father has no way to battle the force that would periodically seize his son and throw him into dangerous situations.

He hears of a man who is able to cure various diseases and cast out demons. Finally, hope for his son! Eagerly he takes the boy and journeys to where this man is supposed to be. He finds some of his disciples and implores them, please, cure my son. The disciples agree to do so. But they fail. No matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, there is no improvement in the boy. The father is disappointed. Why could they not do the miraculous healing their Lord is known for? And as he asks himself this question, he realizes his mistake: these men are the Lord’s followers; they are not the Lord himself.

The Lord Jesus Christ is perfect. He is compassionate, merciful, just, and able to do great things. His disciples throughout history have tried to follow his example, with varying degrees of success. No follower of Christ is as compassionate, as merciful, or as just as Jesus. No follower of Christ is perfect. And while we strive to live up to his calling, none of us is worthy of another’s faith.

Christians may help point the way to salvation, but we cannot save anyone. Only Christ can do that.

Let us pray. God of salvation, you sent us out to be your witnesses. Grant us the strength to be humble, that we may not confuse anyone by claiming your greatness for ourselves. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 15, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 38:10-20

“Surely it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but you have held back my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.” Isaiah 38:17 (NRSV)

Why do bad things happen to good people? That question has been asked for as long as humans have existed. When we suffer tragedy, illness, or any other affliction, it’s only natural to call out to God, why me?

Some of us are able to answer that question to our own satisfaction. We may take comfort in the idea that God has a plan, or that this is in response to something we’ve done, or in preparation for something we’ll have to deal with later.

Others of us are perplexed by a loving God who allows such suffering, and have difficulty reconciling the goodness of God with the pain we feel. We might blame God, or lash out at him in anger.

All of these responses bring us closer to God, as we wrestle with understanding and acceptance. And whatever its ultimate cause, when our suffering is over we are able to better appreciate our wellness, and the many blessings in our lives. When we have lived with the reality that we might not see another day dawn, experiencing the sunrise is an event that fills us with joy and thanksgiving. Whatever petty complaints we may have had before pale in importance, and we realize that life’s too precious to waste regretting the past or railing against those things we simply cannot change. While not necessarily the reason for our suffering, the perspective we gain from it is a blessing to be celebrated.

Let us pray. Tender Lord, you are with us when we rejoice, and you are with us when we cry out. Help us to turn to you whatever our circumstances, that we may see the blessings you provide in every situation. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 15, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Hebrews 11:29-12:2

“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.” Hebrews 11:29-31 (NRSV)

The dictionary defines faith as “a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness or a person, idea, or thing.” The bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Yet neither of those fully captures what faith is.

A confident belief, an assurance, and a conviction are all intellectual states of being. A living faith in Jesus Christ goes far beyond intellect. A living faith gives us courage to keep moving forward even when it seems our way is blocked and our enemies are bearing down upon us. It gives us the strength to fight impossible battles. It enables us to discern the will of the Lord and do the right thing, no matter who we are or what we’ve done before. Faith is no mere thought process; faith is a way of life.

It’s good to know and to study the word of the Lord, but we won’t experience true faith until we live what we have received.

Let us pray. Faithful Lord, you have worked in the lives of your people throughout human history. Grant us a living faith, that we may continue to witness to your love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.