Lent 3, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Colossians 1:15-23

“And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard.”  Colossians 1:21-23a (NRSV)

Left to our own abilities, there is nothing we could ever do that would allow us to come before the Lord holy and blameless.  Because of our actions and the choices we make, we could only come before him as sinners, deserving of punishment, condemnation, and death.

But God in Christ has taken our condemnation and punishment upon himself, and suffered death on our behalf.  Because of his unfathomable love and mercy, he has exchanged his righteousness for our sinfulness, and defeated death in order to give us life.  Through his grace we can stand holy and blameless before the Father, estranged no more, embraced as beloved children and heirs of the kingdom.

None of this is dependent upon our actions.  God in Christ has already done it, and that is the good news—the gospel—that we cling to.

Let us pray.  God of grace and mercy, you have come to the aid of your people.  Grant us the boldness to hope in your gospel, that we may be steadfast in our faith in your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by John 7:53-8:11

“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now the law of Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?’”  John 8:3-5 (NRSV)

In our efforts to live as faithful Christian disciples, we are called to study God’s word and discern his will for our lives.  This includes examining his ancient commandments and attempting to understand how to apply them in our own times.  Given that we no longer speak the language in which God’s early activity was recorded, and that our cultural contexts and societal norms are vastly different from the earliest witnesses, any attempt to apply God’s eternal word to our modern lives requires interpretation.

The Pharisees claimed they caught the woman “in the very act of committing adultery” and referenced “the law of Moses” as commanding she be killed by stoning for her crime.  Most likely they were referring to Leviticus 20:10:  “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”  However, if she had indeed been caught in the very act of committing adultery, then where was the man with whom she was committing adultery?  Why were the Pharisees not outraged by his actions and demanding he be punished according to the law of Moses as well?

By their selective application of the law, the Pharisees revealed their cultural prejudices.  When we seek to make ancient commandments normative for our own lives and societies, we must beware of doing the same thing.  We must recognize our own biases, and we must be open to hearing what the word actually says opposed to what we want it to say.  We must take the same standard of Christian grace and selfless love that we claim for ourselves and apply it to those we’d prefer not to honor, for they too are created in the image of God.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your Word is as eternal as your steadfast love.  Open our eyes to our own prejudices and biases, that we may be fair and just in our application of your commandments.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 65:17-25

“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”  Isaiah 65:17-18a (NRSV)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and when he looked upon what he had done he saw that it was good.  But he was not finished.

God’s creative action was not completed in the first six days.  God continues to create and recreate, refreshing and renewing what becomes tired and worn.  When his people, created in his own image, stray far from him and cause preventable harm to themselves, to others, and to the earth, God is able to bring us past our errors and injurious choices.  He offers us healing, a new start, a new birth.

Put your hope in the One whose powers of creation are greater than our powers of destruction.  Let him rebuild your life, and rejoice forever in his eternal redemptive work.

Let us pray.  Creator God, your activity within your creation never ceases.  Grant us the courage to embrace your renewing spirit, that we may let go of our past hurts and look forward to the glory to come.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Lent 2, Monday, Year A

Inspired by Numbers 21:4-9

“The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’  So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’”  Numbers 21:7-8 (NRSV)

Actions have consequences, and sometimes we regret our actions once the consequences become apparent.  We pray that God will spare us from the consequences of our own actions and allow us to continue on our way as though we’d never made the choices we did.

But sometimes God does not remove the consequences from our lives.  That does not mean, however, that he abandons us to them.  The Israelites prayed that God would remove the poisonous serpents from their midst.  God did not give them what they wanted; instead he provided a way for the lethal affect to be neutralized.  Though still plagued by poisonous serpents, all they had to do was look at the bronze serpent Moses had set on a pole and they would live.

That’s it: just look at the bronze serpent.  They did not have to participate in any complex ritual or perform some atoning sacrifice; they did not have to engage in particular behaviors that would demonstrate their proper repentance.  When they felt the sting of the real serpent, all they had to do was look at the bronze serpent and trust that God would save them.  And through his grace, though the serpents still surrounded them and the poison had already entered their bodies, they managed to live and not die.  Though still present, the consequences of their sin did not determine their fate.

We all sin many times and in many ways.  Yet we die in Christ and are born anew every day, and we need not be defined by our past sins.  We may be surrounded by the consequences of our sinful actions and behaviors, but those consequences need not determine our fate.  All we need to do is look to the one who took upon himself the consequences of our sin, and trust that he will save us.

Let us pray.  Omnipotent God, your grace is more powerful than any force in creation.  Grant us the sure knowledge of your mercy, that we may face the consequences of our actions with courage and humility.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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.