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.

Lent 1, Thursday, Year A

Inspired by Psalm 51

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”  Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV)

Do you imagine God as someone rooting for your success, or as someone tasked with keeping you in line?  How does that impact your relationship with him?

King David used his power to exploit a woman he saw.  He summoned her to him and took advantage of the fact that she would never say no to her king.  When she later reported she was pregnant, David used his command over the military to arrange for her husband’s death.  He abused his power, violated a woman, and murdered a man.

The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront David and condemn him for his actions.  If David had understood God’s purpose as keeping him in line, then he would have cowered in fear before his Lord, perhaps meekly accepting whatever punishment God administered, but hoping to be away from God’s wrathful presence as soon as possible.  Yet instead he prayed to remain in God’s presence.  He prayed that God would forgive him his sins, and give him God’s own spirit to enable him to live according to God’s ways.

David understood that even when angry and disappointed in him, God wanted David to live up to the potential God had blessed him with.  God was no mere disciplinarian; God was on his side, rooting for his success, and wanted him to understand how his actions had failed to honor God and God’s people.  David took that lesson to heart, and cherished the One who was trying to help him.

We have the same God as David, and God cares just as much for our success and wellbeing.  Don’t be afraid to recognize and name your sins before God; he knows them anyway.  Trust that he is on your side, and that he’ll accept your repentance and help you to live in a way that honors him and all those around you.

Let us pray.  Loving God, you desire us to live peacefully with one another.  Sustain us with your willing spirit, that we may walk according to your ways and treat others with dignity and respect.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Ash Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.  Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”  Joel 2:12-13 (NRSV)

Our society emphasizes tolerance and self-esteem.  No one is to judge another person, and all beliefs and choices are of equal value.  To claim differently is to be seen as intolerant.

These are all good things.  Rigid conformity to arbitrary standards has caused much damage over the years, and it’s true that none of us was put on this earth to judge another person.  We each have our own individual gifts to discover and use according to our own situations and callings.

But the down side to all this is the inability to acknowledge we might have gone astray.  If we turn to the Lord our God and discern that we’ve squandered the gifts he’s given us or used them to the detriment of his gospel, the relativism of our society objects to such harsh judgments and seeks to justify our actions.  We’re told we must feel better about ourselves and improve our self-esteem.  Not only are we not allowed to judge others, we’re not allowed to judge ourselves.  And since we’re expected to see ourselves as perpetually ‘OK’ and justified, we can never critically evaluate our choices and recognize our faults.

God’s mercy and steadfast love frees us from the need to constantly justify ourselves.  We don’t have to present ourselves to him as perfect, because he already knows we’re not.  We don’t have to maintain some outward appearance of confidence and perfection, because he knows our inner brokenness, will grieve with us for the harm we’ve caused ourselves and others, and will heal us with his mercy and his grace.

Let yourself recognize your faults, your weaknesses, and yes, even your sins.  The world might want to pretend there’s no such thing, but only when we acknowledge sin’s existence can we hope to be freed from it.  Turn to the Lord your God, and let him offer you his forgiveness and healing.

Let us pray.  Merciful God, you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Open our eyes to our own sins, that we be cleansed by your forgiveness and renewed in your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Tuesday, Year A

Inspired by 1 Kings 19:9-18

“[God] said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’  Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”  1 Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV)

When we think of the power of God, we think of wild storms and earthquakes, fires that consume everything in its path, and the unstoppable might of one before whom no one can stand.  And God indeed has that power.  But God is not found only in destructive forces; God is also found in gentle stillness.

Sometimes we seek the quiet voluntarily, calming ourselves and the storms that rage within us to find a peaceful place where we can welcome the divine.  Other times that peace eludes us because we cannot stop battling the relentless onslaught of life’s challenges.  We feel we are at war constantly: with outside forces, with our own temptations, even with those we love.  Even with God.  And we fight and we fight until we have nothing left, until we collapse exhausted, waiting to be consumed by our adversaries.  Yet when we fall, exhausted and spent, rather than suffering a final push by our enemies we are embraced by stillness.  God is powerful enough to keep all other forces at bay, and bring his peace.

Do not fear the storms of life.  God’s power is greater than whatever might work against you, and he has called you to him.  Seek his stillness when it comes, and trust his mercy to bring you peace.

Let us pray.  God of power and might, your gentleness is beyond our imagining.  Still the storms we face, that we might better discern your presence.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Monday, Year A

Inspired by Exodus 33:7-23

“[God] said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’  And [Moses] said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.  For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?  In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’”  Exodus 33:14-16 (NRSV)

What is the mark of God’s people?  Is it strict adherence to an ancient book?  Is it the preservation of ancient societal norms?  Is it confidence that events which occurred centuries or millennia ago somehow conferred some magical power and protection on certain people today?

God’s people are not identified by any of those things.  God’s people live with the assurance that the presence of God himself is with them, whatever their circumstances.  They know whatever challenges they face, they are not alone.  They know whatever victories they enjoy, God celebrates with them.  They know when faced with confusing or ethically ambiguous situations, God’s wise counsel is not far from them, and he will guide their actions according to his ways of justice and peace.

The ways of the world celebrate greed, jealousy, apathy, and brutality.  The people of God are marked by their commitment to generosity, joy, love, and peace.  The presence of God in our midst enables us to live according to these principles, and thus spread his grace through the world.

Let us pray.  Ever-present God, you bless us with your presence.  Remind us of your closeness, that we may seek your will in all that life brings before us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A

Inspired by 2 Peter 1:16-21

“First of all, you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  2 Peter 1:20-21 (NRSV)

There are many in the world today claiming to know the will of God for your life.  They have written books and sit on radio and television panels, proclaiming a precise formula of politics, gender roles, and cultural norms they claim are directly from God and therefore authoritative for all people at all times.  Most of the time they even cite a few bible verses that seem to support their positions.

Yet for all that they assert themselves as prophets (whether they apply that word to themselves or not, if they claim to speak for God, then they are standing in the role of prophet), most do not fit the criteria.  Most of today’s prophets stand to personally gain from their ‘prophecies’ being accepted and acted upon.  Sometimes they gain a financial reward; it nearly always bolsters their own power and influence.  Much of what they proclaim serves to condemn or delegitimize some segment of the population, making entire demographics somehow less deserving of grace and agency than the powerful prophets and their ilk.

But if you look at the actual biblical prophets and their prophecies, you will see that most of the time the prophecies condemned those with power and spoke on behalf of the marginalized.  Prophets themselves rarely enjoyed positions of power or status in their own contexts, because the words of God they proclaimed challenged the comfortable social order.

God’s word commands mercy, compassion, and justice for all.  Those commands are not open to interpretation.  They don’t include qualifiers such as ‘deserving’ poor, ‘legitimately’ fatherless, or ‘morally upright’ disenfranchised.  Consider God’s word in its context; recognize the difference between a description of the times and a prescription for action.  Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and discern the will of the living God.

Let us pray.  God of the ages, your will transcends time and culture.  Turn our hearts to your will, that we may not be deceived by those who would interpret your word to their own gain.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Transfiguration, Saturday, Year A

Inspired by Mark 9:9-13

“As they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”  Mark 9:9-10 (NRSV)

In this age of technology and information, we expect to have knowledge and understanding at our fingertips.  If something doesn’t make sense, we look it up.  We research our mysteries until they are no longer mysteries, and we face the world confident in our knowledge of events and how they will impact our lives.

But sometimes we are too confident in our knowledge, and we are too quick to base our actions on what we believe we know.  Sometimes events occur whose significance cannot be known until much later, and we find ourselves unprepared for reality because we jumped to our conclusions too quickly.

God is continually acting in the world, through his people and through miraculous events.  His understanding of human relationships and interactions is far greater than our own, and two events that seem completely unconnected to us may have deep meaning when seen together in a different context.

We have been blessed with keen intellect and curiosity, both of which allow us great insight into how the world works.  But great insight is not the same as perfect knowledge, and it is to our own detriment when we rely on our understanding as complete.  Living in the certainty of our knowledge blinds us to much of God’s work in the world.  Living faithfully while seeking understanding allows us to recognize and witness God’s ongoing activity.  Rather than expecting certain outcomes and being disappointed when things don’t happen as we expect, live in the mystery of God and be awed and amazed by what he can accomplish.

Let us pray.  Mysterious God, your ways are beyond our comprehension.  Grant us the humility to accept the limits of our own wisdom, that we may be pleasantly surprised by your creativity and your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.