Pentecost 25, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by Acts 22:22-23:11

“While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, ‘Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.’  Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth.  At this Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!  Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’  Those standing nearby said, ‘Do you dare insult God’s high priest?’  And Paul said, ‘I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.”’”  Acts 23:1-5 (NRSV)

In all arenas of life—civic, religious, and familial—some are put in positions of authority over others.  The expectation is that those leaders will maintain and uphold the virtues and principles that are supposed to govern the activities of that sphere.  But when the leaders themselves fail to live according to those virtues and principles, a great deal of confusion, mistrust, and disillusionment can occur.

Paul probably knew perfectly well that Ananias was the high priest, but he used Ananias’ abuse of power to highlight the inappropriateness of his actions.  The council themselves referred to Ananias as “God’s high priest” and Paul cleverly pointed out that he knew God’s high priest, a leader of God’s people, would never violate the very law he was there to uphold.  Since Ananias had indeed violated that law, Paul hadn’t recognized him as high priest.  Ananias’ actions did not fit his position.

When we are in positions of authority, whether it’s in government, a social organization, or within our own families, we must follow the same rules and engage in the same behaviors that we expect from everyone else.  We have a great deal of influence over other people; we can use it to encourage justice, or to create mistrust.  Which would best serve the kingdom of God?

Let us pray.  Sovereign God, you give us the power to influence others.  Enable us to use that power wisely, that your principles of justice and mercy will guide all our actions and decisions.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 24, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Amos 5:12-24

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  Amos 5:21-24 (NRSV)

Some proudly declare themselves to be “church-going, bible-believing Christians,” and consider that to be central to their identity and faith.  But church-going often means ‘attends worship weekly’ and bible-believing frequently translates to knowing some famous bible stories and the ability to quote a few favorite verses.  While gathering with other believers to worship God and learning about him from the biblical witness are good places to start, they are not what define a Christian.

God created the world and all the people in it, and he desires his people to treat his creation with justice and kindness.  That is revealed in the ancient biblical witness, and it is further revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  God’s Holy Spirit continues to dwell on this earth, guiding us in God’s ways of truth and justice.  But that Spirit will guide us out of our comfortable, familiar churches and into the world where sin, strife, and turmoil reign supreme.  We are called to be God’s witnesses in the midst of messy humanity, not pronouncing his wrath, but proclaiming his mercy.  We are called to practice justice and model kindness, and by doing so we will demonstrate true righteousness.

God did not put us on this earth simply to sing songs to him and learn stories about how he used to work in the world; God put us on this earth to work with his Spirit.  Work to turn injustice into justice, and help the gracious love of God transform the world from one of despair into one of hope and expectation.

Let us pray.  Righteous God, your ways are just and benevolent.  Grant us the courage to leave our safe enclaves, that we may participate in your salvific work in the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 24, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Zechariah 7:1-14

“The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.  But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear.”  Zechariah 7:8-11 (NRSV)

There’s a lot of attention placed on discovering God’s will for your life.  What profession does God want you to work in?  Whom does he want you to marry?  How many children does he want you to have?  What church does he want you to go to?  While it’s good to seek the Lord’s will in all aspects of our lives, our focus is decidedly self-centered.

Much less attention is placed on living out God’s will as it is clearly stated multiple times throughout the bible.  In fact, we actively avoid many of his commandments because obeying them would infringe on our own ideas of God’s will regarding our own individual happiness, prosperity, and self-righteousness.

King Darius sent two men to inquire about a specific worship practice, ostensibly to ensure the people’s worship would be acceptable to the Lord.  However God pointed out that their worship practices benefited themselves more than God, and sent word to the people how they could best honor and celebrate him: by practicing justice and kindness to one another and by not oppressing the weak and vulnerable in their society.  God commanded these same things through many prophets at many points in Israel’s history, and when Jesus came he proclaimed the same message.

Yet like those who claimed to follow God in the past, we have refused to listen to his commandments.  We benefit too much from injustice and apathy, from the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable.  We’d rather focus on niceties like proper worship practices and how minutely God is involved with every detail of our lives, and ignore how our actions negatively impact the health and wellbeing of others, whether directly or indirectly.

Seek the Lord’s will for your life.  Search out ways to practice justice and kindness.  Become aware of how the vulnerable are exploited, and actively work to end such oppression.  All the rest will fall into place.

Let us pray.  God of mercy, you desire kindness and justice for all the people you’ve created.  Open our eyes to the consequences others pay for our thoughtless actions, that we may obey your will and demonstrate the power of your love to the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 24, Monday, Year C

Inspired by Psalm 50

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.  Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?  Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.  Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  Psalm 50:12-15 (NRSV)

There is nothing we have that God needs;God is not dependent upon us for anything.  The world, the universe, and everything residing therein already belong to him.

So what does he want from us?

God wants to be our God.  God wants us to recognize him as our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer.  God does not require our sacrifices to sustain him; God desires us to call on him in our times of trouble, to worship him, and to give glory to him for all that we have.

God did not create us to fulfill some need of his.  God is so full of love that he allowed it to overflow into creation, and that is what binds the universe together.  He created us not because he needed us, but because he wanted us to be able to share in his love.

Embrace the love of God.  Recognize him as your God, and rejoice in being among his people.

Let us pray.  God of the universe, you need nothing from us but give everything to us.  Open our eyes to your glory, that we may worship and glorify you in all that we do.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

All Saints Sunday, Year C

Inspired by Luke 6:20-31

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:31 (NRSV)

It’s such a simple verse stating such a simple concept.  Jesus’ Golden Rule: do to others as you would have them do to you.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  Simple, elegant, and amazingly difficult to live out in daily life.

We get so caught up in the challenges and frustrations of our lives that we forget everyone else around us has challenges and frustrations of their own.  We develop a tunnel vision where our own problems are of ultimate importance, and, though we’d never articulate it this way, we expect the world to adapt and accommodate itself to our needs and desires.  When we do that, however, we lose sight of the needs and desires of others, and we fail to obey the Golden Rule.

This verse immediately follows Jesus’ instructions to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.”  It’s easy to bristle at those words and think of how affronted you’d be if anyone cursed you or wronged you in any way.  It’s easy to dismiss those who beg and steal as being lazy and immoral, and we don’t want to show kindness and mercy to such undeserving people.

But think of that time when you were having a really bad day and you verbally abused someone because they said the wrong thing to you.  How might your day have improved if they’d gently wished you well and offered whatever assistance they could?  Think of what it would take to get you to beg or steal in order to survive.  You’d have good reasons, and you’d desperately wish someone would understand that and help you to just get through the day.  How do you know the person begging or stealing from you isn’t in exactly that situation?

The Golden Rule requires us to see ourselves in the worst moments of another, and to recognize that we have those moments ourselves.  The next time that happens, do to others as you would have them do to you.

Let us pray.  Merciful God, you know the best and the worst of which we are capable.  Inspire us to be our best, that we may reflect your grace to all in need.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 24, Saturday, Year C

Inspired by John 8:39-47

“[The Jews who had believed in Jesus] answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.  This is not what Abraham did.  You are indeed doing what your father does.’  They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here.  I did not come on my own, but he sent me.’”  John 8:39-42 (NRSV)

To identify as Christian means more than just adopting the name and performing a few outward signs of piety.  Occasionally attending worship and adhering to a few carefully chosen moral prohibitions or expectations does not make one Christian.  To identify as Christian means to identify oneself as a follower and servant of the God of the universe as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  He came to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.  He came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  He came as a physical, tangible, accessible emissary of God’s love and care for all people.  Anyone who identifies themselves as Christian is bound by his or her call to uphold those principles and continue that mission with whatever means they have at their disposal.

There are many benefits that come from identifying as Christian: a sense of community, a sense of security, the knowledge of God’s mercy and salvation.  But there are also many responsibilities; claiming the benefits while ignoring the responsibilities does not make one a Christian any more than those who sought to kill Jesus could legitimately claim God as their father.

Let us pray.  God of salvation, you call us to follow your ways.  Grant us humility, that we may faithfully participate in your mission in the world.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 24, Friday, Year C

Inspired by Job 22:21-23:17

“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.  But he knows the way that I take.”  Job 23:8-10a (NRSV)

In our most desperate times, we call out to the Lord.  Like Job we may cry out to him wanting to know the reasons for the tragedies we’ve suffered.  We might cry out for comfort, knowing we can withstand anything, if we only can feel him with us.  We might cry out for wisdom, wanting to know his will for the path we should take.  Whatever the reason, we cry out in earnestness and expectation.

And we hear nothing.

We feel abandoned by our God and alone in our suffering, unable to feel his presence or discern his will.  Our burning questions go unanswered, our deepest yearnings go unfulfilled.  We must go forward alone, or wither and die where we stand.

But those are not our only choices, and we have not been abandoned by God.  The darkest night and thickest clouds may hide the light of the sun from our eyes, but the sun is still there, providing its light and warmth to the atmosphere, sustaining the earth and all the life it holds.  Though we may not be able to feel his presence or hear his voice, God is always there, and he always knows what’s in our hearts.

Trust in the Lord, and trust in the gifts he’s already given you.  He may not always give you what you want when you want it, but he will always give you what you need, and he will never abandon you or leave you to face the world’s trials alone.

Let us pray.  Steadfast God, you come to the aid of your people.  Grant us patience and faith, that even when you’re invisible to our senses, we can trust in your mercy and presence.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 24, Thursday, Year C

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

“For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.”  2 Corinthians 1:5 (NRSV)

No one wants to suffer, yet suffering is a part of life, even for the faithful Christian.  Obediently following the will of the Lord guarantees no protection from suffering, and in fact increases the likelihood of suffering, since by following Christ we put ourselves at odds with the values of the world.  As a result, many Christians take comfort in reminding themselves that Christ himself suffered on our account, and when we suffer for the sake of the faith we’re sharing in his sufferings.

But such assurances can seem like no more than empty words when we’re in the midst of our own suffering, especially suffering that has nothing at all to do with standing strong in the faith.  Much suffering is simply a result of being human in a fallen world.  At such times we feel isolated and alone, separated from the love of God and the concern of other people by a deep and wide chasm.  And at such times we care not for the sufferings of Christ, but for his consolation.

The word we translate as ‘consolation’ is the Greek parakaleo: para (beside) and kaleo (to call or invite).  The consolation of Christ is no awkward pat on the shoulder attempting to give comfort; the consolation of Christ is Christ standing with us in our suffering, sharing it with us, bearing it with us, and assuring us that we are not alone.  And because we share in Christ’s suffering and he shares in ours, we also share in his resurrection.  We know that even though he suffered death on the cross, he also defeated death and received new life, a life which he gladly shares with us.

No matter how alone you may feel in your suffering, know that God in Christ is with you.  He has invited you to stand with him, and he will take your suffering upon himself and raise you up to new life in him.

Let us pray.  God of consolation, you have called us to stand by your side.  Comfort us with your presence, that we may know your victory over all that afflicts us.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Wednesday, Year C

Inspired by Matthew 21:28-32

“Jesus said to [the chief priests and elders], ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.’”  Matthew 21:31b-32 (NRSV)

Increasingly we are able to surround ourselves only with those who agree with us and support what we already believe.  We get our news from outlets that are biased toward our own worldview; we get our analysis from commentators known to have a political agenda similar to our own.  We listen only to the voices that reinforce our own entrenched positions, and we never allow ourselves to be challenged by a different interpretation.  Whenever we do encounter a different interpretation or worldview, we dismiss the validity of the position by attacking and devaluing the people who hold it, failing to recognize that they too may have something of importance to add to the conversation.

We are blinding ourselves to much of God’s work in the world, and we’re not the first to do so.

The Pharisees were confident in the truth of their own understandings.  They knew they were righteous, and they equated righteousness with themselves.  They failed to recognize righteousness when it came to them in another form, such as John the Baptist.  They were repelled by the ‘unrighteous’ company that followed him: tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners.  Such people couldn’t possibly know anything about God, so the Pharisees felt free to reject and revile them and what they proclaimed.

The Pharisees had impoverished themselves out of the richness of God’s mercy.

God works in many ways and through many people; he is generous with his abundant grace and mercy.  Don’t deprive yourself of his richness by isolating yourself inside your own understanding; God’s work goes far beyond your personal experience, and his love joins together people with a variety of worldviews.  There are many people, many interpretations, many opinions, and one God embracing us all with his love.

Let us pray.  Lord of righteousness, your work is beyond our comprehension.  Open our eyes to the diversity of your love, that we may recognize your mercy in places we wouldn’t otherwise look.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Pentecost 23, Tuesday, Year C

Inspired by Daniel 5:1-12

“So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.  They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.”  Daniel 5:3-4  (NRSV)

We are able to perceive much with our senses.  We can recognize beauty and appreciate value, and we can enjoy fine things.  But in many ways our senses are also very limited.  We can only observe what is right in front of us, and we cannot always understand that what we comprehend is only a small piece of something much larger.

King Belshazzar of Babylon was enjoying a great festival when he called for the costly vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar had plundered from the temple in Jerusalem.  He used them to hold the wine he and his entourage were drinking, and they recognized their beauty and value.  But they did not understand that they were looking at a small part of God’s good creation, and instead they honored nonexistent deities of the lifeless elements used to create such beautiful vessels.

We can observe a stunning sunset or experience the calming peace of the wind passing through the leaves.  We can be thankful for brilliant bouquets of flowers or plentiful harvests.  We can marvel at the strength of the ocean or the placidness of a lake.  None of these things are divine in and of themselves, and none of them owe their existence to their own unique god.  All point to the One God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who had made his house the temple in Jerusalem, the God who sent his only Son to die on the cross for the salvation of the world.

Let us pray.  God of all creation, all things point to you.  Grant us the eyes to perceive your goodness in all things, that we may honor you as we experience the beauty of your creation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.