Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday of the Second Week of Lent


Genesis 37:2-4,12-13,15-28
Psalm 105
Matthew 21:33-46


Envy and desire often breed discontent. It’s clearly evident in our readings today… 

When the discontent is within ourselves, it’s poisonous. Joseph’s discontented brothers wish him gone; the tenant farmers visit violence and death to the master’s servants, and to his son. 

When the envy is aimed at us, it’s painful. Rejection on the part of Joseph. The loss of a child for the vineyard’s master. 

These behaviors and the kind of greed, lust – really – for power, knowledge, prestige, all have their root in the fall. Even the Flood was unable to completely purge the earth. Given the new beginning we got with Noah, and viewing how his descendants have managed to handle themselves… I sometimes shudder to think what our world would have been like in this day and age without God’s intervention!

At the same time, one could argue that Joseph had it coming to him. He was a favorite, after all; and he didn’t exactly mind rubbing in the faces of his brothers just what God had revealed to him. His father treated him like royalty. Their own actions served to give fuel to the fire that brewed just beneath the surface of Jacob’s other sons… the fire that often brews just beneath our own surface. 

And yet, even with intervention, we are still suffering in a world of injustice, of envy, of malice. We live in a world where the rich decry living wages for the poor. A world where governments have no issue leveling villages, towns, and cities filled with defenseless people with the simple flick of a switch. Our reality is also one in which people believe they have born privilege, as well as one in which those who do not have privilege sometimes take it upon themselves to ensure that they get what they believe is fair… or more.

This isn’t what God has called us to… not at all! But it is the reality we face. And we, as people of God, marked in baptism by Christ Jesus and the Spirit, are called to do something about it. “But,” we may ask, “what can we do… I mean really do?”

To be honest, the question is so complex, it would be impossible for me to answer it directly… though I think that the prophet Micah has some suggestions.  

YAHWEH has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Will we solve injustice, cruelty, suffering, and hatred in the world, in our lifetime? No. We won’t. But we can do our part. We can walk in ways that minister compassion, instead of fostering envy. We can seek to help others, and in doing so, we can help ourselves. None of this is possible, though, without the active and vital participation of the Spirit… and so, this day, let us pray that the Spirit would help us to avoid the pitfalls of envy and of breeding envy in others, so that we may bring dignity, wholeness, and hope to those who so desperately need it, in our back yards… and throughout the world.


For those engaged in urban missionary work here in central Indiana,
that they may be given a sense of connectedness to those they encounter,
forging solidarity
and a groundswell of compassion
in the face of homelessness,
substance abuse,
mental illness,
and abandonment,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those engaged in foreign missions,
that differences in cultures and communication styles
would be no hindrance to sharing the message of the living God,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 

For those in positions of civil, economic, and educational authority,
that their primary concern would be for the people their actions effect,
not simply today,
but often for a lifetime,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who foster envy, hatred, and jealousy,
that their hearts and spirits would be turned
through the gracious visitation of the Spirit,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who feel abandoned by God,
that through the work of caring believers,
they may find in themselves the courage
to establish new
and reestablish forgotten ties
with the creator of the heavens and the earth,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the dying as they embark on their final journey,
that they may recognize God’s presence with them in their final moments,
so that, cleansed, forgiven, and fearful no longer,
they may rest peacefully in the promises of Christ,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Hear us now, O Lord, as we bring to you our own personal needs and intentions...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 16:19-31


Lent is often times given a bad rap as a time where we rag on humanity. We focus on our failings, our weaknesses, our sinfulness. Our liturgy takes on a more reserved character, we give things up, we talk about the crucifixion perhaps, a touch more – or a lot more – than usual. Critics of the Lenten observance often feel that it’s just a time to trash ourselves.

I’d like to propose that they are missing something. Well, multiple somethings, in fact.

Lent, when observed rightly, is a time of profound balance. Today, in our readings from Sacred Scripture, we are exposed to our fallenness, our need for divine guidance, and the effects of divine guidance in the lives of the faithful. 

Our reading from the prophet Jeremiah, and our Psalm, both emphasize the fact that human wisdom is, essentially, useless when it is divorced from a relationship with God. Jeremiah especially makes the point when he talks about relying on human strengths and turning their hearts away from God. As human beings, we have wisdom… some might call it street smarts. We have an understanding of how things work in the ‘real world’, but when we rely on such an understanding to formulate the way we approach our lives, we fall woefully short of what God wants of us. He does not want us to turn our hearts away from him… he wants to channel that worldly wisdom we have, to temper it with compassion, with righteousness, with eternal truth, and make of us effective ambassadors for his mercy and love in the world around us.

All the wisdom in the world, and even beyond the world, that is devoid of God’s presence is, ultimately, useless. When we have squandered the Spirit, when we have failed to live justly and humbly before God by tempering ourselves, then we are reduced, not simply to being counted among the wicked, but to being truly pitiful.

Such is the case of the rich man in the parable from our Gospel reading. 

Here was a man who clearly had it all, and yet all his earthly wisdom wasn’t enough to save him. Contextually, it’s made clear that this man had some awareness of the Law and the prophets… and yet he still finds himself judged, and tormented by the fact that his brothers (and presumably his extended family) haven’t amended their lives, or subjected their worldly wisdom to the wisdom and the justice of God.

When we consider the kind of life that God wants us to live, one in which we balance our own needs with the needs of others, the message present here becomes clear: our own nature has fallen, it fails us. It leads us to selfishness beyond what is necessary for the meeting of our basic needs. Thus, it is only in God that our human nature can be redeemed and risen from its debased state… and yet it can be redeemed and risen and restored! We can be more than our fallenness indicates. But we can’t do it on our own.

We need God. Thus we need self-discipline. We need reflection. We need renewal. We need it to redeem the world. And we need it to be redeemed ourselves.

May this Lenten season help us to recover a balanced walk, through the working of the Spirit, by the example of Christ, and in the overwhelming mercy of the Father.


For a deeper realization of our need for divine guidance,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a more complete understanding of the Scriptures we hold dear, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a continual conversion of heart, mind, and spirit, during Lent, and beyond,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For an indwelling of wisdom as we reach out to others with the Gospel message, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For a peace beyond our understanding as we contemplate our mortality, 
and as we cope with the suffering and death that is a part of our world today…
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 

For the needs and intentions we bring with us this day…
(silence for personal prayer)
…let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
Psalm 50
Matthew 23:1-12


When is the last time you examined your motivations for faith?

In our readings today, we are presented with two stark reminders of the ways that our faith can be motivated, and an indictment of our human nature, which stands in need of faith.

In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel today, we are presented with a powerful reminder of the wrong reasons for faith. We should not be believers for the external show, the power, or the prestige of being a believer. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew their scriptures well, and paraded their knowledge widely, but their righteousness was highly questionable, because their motivations were compromised. Their goal was self-justification… something less than God.

The prophet Isaiah, however, reminds us that listening to God’s law and following it righteously requires the intervention of God. He does not say “Though your sins are like scarlet, you can make them white as snow.” God reserves to himself the authority to cleanse of sin and to fill with the Spirit, a Spirit that produces righteousness as its fruit.

There is a component, of course, for us… we must be response to the Spirit’s work, firmly debasing ourselves of any idea that we, in and of ourselves, can wipe our own slates clean. When we listen to the voice of God, when we follow his commands, when we seek to live righteously, we are empowered to do so by the Spirit, not by ourselves. A righteous life is continually nurtured by the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit.

And so, our God approaches us daily… moment by moment. He is present in each and every aspect of our lives. Why bother to claim his name, or to walk in outward fidelity to him if we have no intent to foster the covenant relationship in Christ Jesus? We must accept the Father’s claim on us, secured by Christ’s blood, and nurtured by the presence of the Spirit… or else all our sacrifices, all our prayers, all our outward fidelity will be as nothing in the sight of Yahweh… for he beholds the heart, not the outward appearances. 

And, when our heart is right with him, and our faith’s motivations rest in our knowledge of our fallen-ness and our need for his presence in our lives, well… in those moments, all things are possible, and eternal joy stands squarely in our sight.

Don’t live, my friends, in false righteousness. Don’t seek the world’s approval. And don’t follow those who do. Walk in faithfulness to the Creator… and he will set you free to serve him with a power that knows no limit!


That each of us would take stock of our relationship with God,
and would honestly seek to understand our reasons, motivations, and practices of faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those in positions of leadership in the Church
would seek to minister in humility and love,
not seeking their own glory,
but always preaching the truth, 
whatever the cost, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who have walked away from their faith
on account of the fallen-ness of other believers
may find the courage to encounter Christ again 
and renew their relationship with him on his terms,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who, today, are dying
may divest themselves of all self-reliance,
and entrust their spirits to the one 
who is able to do abundantly more than we can ask
or imagine, 
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs of our hearts, 
and of those we love, 
would be known by God 
and ministered to through his faithful love…

(silence for personal prayer)

…let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.