Pentecost 14, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Exodus 32:1-14

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” Exodus 32:1 (NRSV)

In the deepest parts of our beings, we want someone or something to lead us and guide us in the ways that we should go. We want someone in charge that we can depend on. We’re so desperate for something to look up to that we’ll create fictions for ourselves and impart great power and authority upon them, if we can’t find something real to fill that role.

God is the one who belongs in that role. God is the only one that is worthy, and he has the power and the authority in his own right. But God does not operate on our timetables, and we are quick to replace him with a fiction if he doesn’t lead us in the way that we think we should go, at the time we think we should go there.

Remember all that God has done for you in the past; remember how he brought you out of the land of your oppression, saved you from slavery to sin, created a safe path for you through the raging waters, keeping the waves and the currents from overwhelming you. Trust that he didn’t do all that just to abandon you in the wilderness; he is still there, and he is still guiding you. Don’t be concerned that he’s delayed in moving you towards the next step. Perhaps it is simply time for you to camp and rest right now, and he will tell you when it is time to move again.

Do not lose faith and put your trust in a fiction of your own making; trust in the Lord; he alone is worthy of it.

Let us pray. Savior God, you alone are worthy of our trust and devotion. Grant us patience to wait for your timing, that we may remain safely guided by you through this sometimes difficult life. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by John 15:16-25

“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” John 15:19 (NRSV)

We are naturally drawn to those who are similar to ourselves. We seek a place in which we belong, where we are accepted and understood, and that usually occurs when we are surrounded by those who are just like us. But our values and priorities are called into question by the very existence of someone who is not like us, who chooses to live or act differently, according to different values and working towards different goals. In order to justify ourselves, we set out to discredit the ‘other’ in our midst, belittling the ‘different’ person’s values, motives, even character.

As Christians, we are called to a different set of values and priorities than those embraced by our worldly societies. Thus it is not surprising that the world seeks to discredit and reject us, because our very existence calls into question the values and priorities of the world. If we choose something else, might there be something better than what the world has to offer? The world does not want to consider that possibility.

It is also helpful to remember that the Lord God came to earth as a human being, in order to save humanity. Why? Because we were created in the image of God, and he sees in us that likeness to himself that he intentionally fashioned. Jesus came to turn the world towards his Father, because that is where we belong, and that is where we are truly accepted and understood.

Let us pray. Gracious God, you created us in your own image. Help us to recognize your love reflected in our own beings, that we may help turn the whole world towards your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 119:97-104

“Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.” Psalm 119:97 (NRSV)

When we think of ‘law’ we often think of strict, arbitrary rules that must be obeyed in order to avoid harsh punishments. But there are many laws that, while certainly inflexible, serve to provide order in the world and boundaries on which we can depend. Consider the law of gravity. There is no negotiating an exception to that law. If you’re not paying attention when sitting down and you miss your chair, you will fall on the floor, and the likely consequence will be some amount of pain. But now imagine a world with no gravity. Nothing remains where you put it; your ability to move and to rest is greatly impeded. There is no permanence, and there is no order. Chaos reigns supreme.

The law of the Lord is like that. It is inflexible, and there are consequences for disregarding it, but it is not there to impose arbitrary restrictions on our freedom. The law of the Lord provides order in the world, and boundaries on which we can depend. The law of the Lord reveals the will of our maker, and it tells us what we can expect from him. It provides wisdom for how to live peaceably in this world that God created, and obeying it keeps us on the path that he intends us to walk, the path that will lead to peace, understanding, and love.

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you gave us your law as a gift. Help us to meditate on your word, that we may better understand you and your will for your creation. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 5:21-6:9

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 (NRSV)

According to many recent polls and studies most Americans today have a deep mistrust of authority, and this mistrust is becoming more pronounced with each generation. It impacts our politics, our business transactions, our educational systems, our personal relationships, even our religious practice. In many cases, an individual’s pastor or church leadership has very little influence on that person’s religious belief or practice. Instead, people trust their own interpretations over and above the interpretations of those who have been trained and appointed to serve in that capacity.

Sadly, there has been no shortage of pastors and religious leaders (as well as politicians, business leaders, etc.) who have abused their positions of authority in order to satisfy their own selfish desires, earning the mistrust that so many in authority currently experience. However as Christians we are called to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. As God incarnate, Christ was legitimately in a position of authority over all humanity. But not only did he not abuse his authority, he didn’t even exercise it, choosing instead to suffer injustice and death in order to save the world. In reverence to him and the example he set, we who call ourselves by his name are called to give up our own wants and desires for the sake of each other.

When this model is followed by all Christians, then we are all equal in authority. As Martin Luther put it, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” There is no room for abuse of authority here, only an abundance of love.

Let us pray. Lord of all, you sacrificed your own Son for our sake. Grant us the humility to let go of our pride, that we may learn from one another and build each other up as we work to proclaim your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

God will always have competition for our loyalty and devotion. Perhaps he’ll be competing with the prevailing secular culture and its values of greed and selfishness. Perhaps he’ll be competing with a false memory of golden days long past, when everything worked the way it should and everyone did what they were supposed to do.

Whatever the competition, the truth is that we as individuals will always serve one greater force or another. None of us is truly the master of our own universe; we all base our decisions on something outside ourselves. Perhaps it’s the values of the culture in which we live, or perhaps it’s our dreams of how the world ‘should’ be. Whatever it is, we all have to make a choice regarding what is important enough to us to shape our decisions and our lives.

The Lord God created us, redeems us, and sustains us. He desires a world in which every person is given the freedom and the opportunity to fully be who they were created to be, discovering and exploring their gifts without having to worry about injustice, oppression, or violence. No other ‘greater force’ works to ensure the wellbeing of both the individual and the community; only God is worthy of our loyalty and devotion.

Let us pray. God of the ages, you have endured even as the strongest militaries and most robust societies have faded away. Turn our hearts toward you, that your desires will become our desires, and we can serve you with our lives. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Luke 11:5-13

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Luke 11:9 (NRSV)

There is much that we want and expect from God. We understand that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and we expect him to provide solutions to all our problems.

God has that ability, and he does provide solutions to our problems. Unfortunately we often don’t see those solutions, or recognize that they are from God.

Most of the time, we believe we already know what the solution to our problem should be, what we want it to be, and we demand that God provide us that solution, right now. However while God does answer our prayers, he doesn’t meet our demands. The solution he provides to our problem may be very different from the one we want and expect, and because we’re so focused on our demands, we miss the solution our all-knowing and all-powerful God provides.

Or we expect God’s solution to be dramatic, miraculous, and awe-inspiring. As we wait for the skies to thunder and the heavens to shake in response to our need, we miss the simple act performed by an ordinary person that eliminates our need for impressive divine intervention.

Asking, searching, and knocking all suggest humility on our part, and openness to God’s response, whatever it might be. We are welcome to bring our prayers to God; let us trust him to answer them in his own way.

Let us pray. Omnipotent God, your ways are not our ways, and you know better than us what we need. Help us to remain open to your answers, that we may experience the blessings you desire us to have. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 34:15-22

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NRSV)

In an ideal world there would be no pain, no suffering, no tragic events. In an ideal world people wouldn’t hurt each other, or disregard the needs of others as they pursue their own selfish desires. An ideal world is the world God desires for us, but it is not the world in which we live.

We do suffer at the hands of others. Sometimes it’s because we’re being taken advantage of as we try to live according to the word of God. Sometimes it’s because we’re ignoring the word of God, trying to please ourselves and being accountable to no one else.

But whatever the reason for our suffering, God is there with us, ready to wipe every tear from our eyes, ready to tell us that he loves us and forgives us. If our hearts are broken because we showed mercy and generosity to someone who used our good will for their own selfish gain, then God reminds us that his love is greater than the world’s hate. If our spirits are crushed because we just can’t handle the weight of the world anymore, then God gently removes that responsibility from our shoulders, and reminds us that it never belonged there in the first place. He is ready to take over the heavy lifting, and let us rest in his grace, instead.

Let us pray. Compassionate God, you see the suffering of your people. Embrace us with your steadfast love, that we may find rest in your gentle peace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 13, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2,4-5 (NRSV)

There have been numerous studies showing that people who go on diets might lose weight, but they invariably gain it all back again once they’ve reached their goal and stop dieting. However those who make permanent changes to their lifestyle and eating habits are more likely to lose the weight and keep it off. They don’t diet; they live better, with better results.

Living the Christian life is much the same. Following the Lord with the expectation of measurable rewards is like going on a diet; it’s unsustainable for the long run, and you eventually feel that you’ve done ‘enough’ to be able to coast for a while. And that’s when all your bad habits and worldly concerns come back, distracting you further from the will of the Lord. But making permanent, sustainable adjustments to your lifestyle and perspectives in order to live in the Lord will sustain you in the Lord, and keep you constantly attuned to his will.

God’s steadfast love endures forever, and he will be with you for the long run. Make the changes you need not to gain some distant reward, but to live better now, and experience the joy of living in the Lord.

Let us pray. Benevolent God, you desire us to live in your peace. Sustain us in our efforts, that we may experience your grace in all that we do. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 12, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Mark 8:14-21

“Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?” Mark 8:18 (NRSV)

We tend to have short memories when it comes to our faith experiences. We might have a clear and profound encounter with the Lord that opens our eyes to his mercy, and as a result we resolve to follow him all our days. But as the days wear on our memory of that encounter fades. We interpret our more mundane experiences less and less through the eyes of faith, and we begin to wonder what was so great about God in the first place.

God can and does work miracles in our lives, encountering us in profound and dramatic ways. But he is also with us in the midst of the ordinary—working at our jobs, relating to our families. Many of the blessings we receive are the little things in life, but only through the eyes of faith can we see them as blessings from God. And as we fail to see God in our daily lives, we fail to experience the joy that God brings to life.

Remember your profound encounter with God; see his presence and his blessings in your ordinary experiences, and live an extraordinary life, filled with mercy and grace.

Let us pray. Ever-present God, all the blessings in our lives come from you. Open our eyes to your presence, that we may live joyfully in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 12, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Genesis 45:1-15

“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45:5-6 (NRSV)

Sometimes things happen in our lives that are unintended, unexpected, miserable experiences. It seems as though the world is against us, that everything is going terribly wrong, perhaps even that our lives are over. We may try to make the best of a bad situation, but we still only see a bad situation.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, where he was falsely accused and imprisoned for several years. This was a miserable experience for him: unwanted and betrayed by his own kin, forgotten by those he’d helped, living as a prisoner in a foreign land with no hope for his future.

But God was able to use Joseph’s unfortunate situation to prepare Egypt for the coming famine, and Joseph rose to a position of great power. He was able to save his family from starvation, and ensure their continued prosperity at a time when everyone else was sinking into poverty. None of that could have happened if Joseph had not been exactly where he was, when he was.

It would be a stretch to say that God made Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery; a more accurate rendering would be that God was able to take the evil intentions of his brothers and turn them into blessings.

When things seem to be going wrong in your life, trust that the Lord can turn misfortune into blessing, and he can use whatever circumstances in which you find yourself to further his own good purposes.

Let us pray. Sovereign God, no one can thwart your good intentions. Enable us to trust in you, that we may remain hopeful in the midst of our dark times. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.