How often have parents entered a child’s tidy and organized room only to encounter an avalanche of stuff upon opening of the closet door? On the surface the parent is initially delighted, but upon closer inspection such delight turns to disappointment. Such a mess cannot be hidden by simply closing the door. Sadly, many Christians attempt to conceal their sinful mess from God and one another in the closets of their minds while living each day according to earthly values.
In our Reading, Jesus warns the Scribes and Pharisees that even as they present themselves as righteous before others, God knows they do not practice what they preach. These teachers of the law cared only for their ideals and traditions, while lacking in faith and love. Christians who live in such a way as to present themselves as righteous before others, yet fail to live the life of faith in private, face the same rebuke from Christ.
We cannot hide our mess from God. Believe it or not, others see through our charade as well. Thankfully, through Christ we are able to repent, receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness as we strive to follow the path toward righteousness.
Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.
Matthew 20:17-28, Romans 5:1-11
Along the way to Jerusalem, the mother of James and John requested that her sons be given places of honor next to Jesus’ throne. Jesus looked at the two disciples and put forth his own question; “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Jesus knew the cup he was given by his Father meant he would suffer and die for the sake of God’s people. The cup he was to drink is the cup of God’s salvation, a cup that comes at the cost of pouring out his life.
Jesus asks, “Can you drink the cup?” In faith we answer, “Yes, but how?” Jesus gives clear instructions; deny yourself and take up your cross. Drinking the cup of Christ means suffering with him, serving others, enduring hardship, and having faith that God will equip us to do these things. It means putting away our selfish ambitions and extending our hands to meet the needs of the poor, hungry, and lost. Drinking the cup means loving God and neighbor first, offering our lives to Christ in order to gain life in God’s kingdom.
Can you drink the cup? With God’s help, yes you can.
Prayer: O Lord, make us able to drink your cup, that we may follow your example of love. Amen.
I am sure most people have played “Follow the Leader.” It is a simple game, but it can become quite complicated if the leader heads in a direction the rest of the players do not want to go. Would you follow the leader if he walked along the edge of a steep cliff? Seeing such a path filled with extreme challenges is a stumbling block, especially if following the leader means giving up all you have and heading to Jerusalem to be killed for the sake of others. But that is exactly what Jesus did and he calls people to follow him along this same path.
Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Our Lord calls his people to be living sacrifices, unselfishly denying ourselves, placing the needs of others ahead of our own. Only when we do this can we truly say we are following our leader.
There are many false leaders in this world. They make empty promises not intended to be kept. They cannot forgive sins, heal our infirmities, or grant us everlasting life. Only through Christ can people enter the gates of heaven.
Prayer: Lead me Lord Jesus, and give me the will to follow you. Amen.
Matthew 13:36-43, 1 Timothy 6:6-21
Songwriter Harry Chapin spun a tale of a man named Mr. Tanner, a dry cleaner who loved his work. He was content with his work and loved his customers. Tanner was also a baritone who loved singing. Chapin said of Tanner, “He did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole.” Tanner’s friends convinced him he should give up dry cleaning and pursue fame and glory. Yet, it was not to be; his debut showed his talent was not up to snuff. Dejected, Tanner gave up singing and his life was not the same.
God blesses his people with many gifts and talents. Using these, we glorify God by serving our neighbor. Used for God’s purposes, our gifts and talents meet the needs of those around us and create community. Of course, there is always the temptation to seek glory, fame, and fortune for ourselves, especially when swayed by others.
Just as Jesus teaches there are people of the world who would lead us astray, so too Paul teaches us that we are to be content with all God provides. Worldly influences may tempt us to seek glory for ourselves, but loving God and using our gifts brings joy and makes us whole.
Prayer: Holy God, make us content with all you have provided, that it may be our joy to serve others. Amen.
It is no secret; Jesus came into this world to save people from their sins. He lived a life without sin and endured the pain of crucifixion, dying for the sake of God’s people. He then was raised on the third day defeating the power of the grave forever. Like I said, it is no secret. So why are people so timid about sharing such good news? Perhaps it is because they are unsure of themselves, lacking confidence that their words are trustworthy and true. Or, maybe, some are afraid fearful they will be scrutinized for their beliefs.
When Peter and John were ordered by the authorities to cease proclaiming Jesus as the resurrected Lord, those in opposition to the gospel thought they had silenced them. Yet, Peter and John, along with the other apostles, prayed for courage and boldness. They prayed the Holy Spirit would give them power to proclaim the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. As they did so, the church grew rapidly.
Today, the world continues to have little tolerance for the gospel. Yet, emboldened by the same Holy Spirit, Christians are called to share their faith. Pray for boldness and courage. Share your faith with others that they too may hear the redeeming Word of God and believe it.
Prayer: Embolden us, O God, that we would share your Word with the world around us. Amen.
Matthew 13:1-9, Leviticus 26:1-20, 1 Timothy 2:1-6
I am amazed by people who solve math problems with relative ease. Math is not my forte; I do not have a head for numbers. In the classroom, I needed to concentrate on every word from my teacher’s lips yet, solving equations still came with difficulty. I simply did not understand the concepts. Those who perform well in math do so because they not only understand, they can visualize the steps in determining the solution. But solving the problem is not always enough. At some point, one must put what is learned into practice.
Our lessons today have to do with hearing and understanding. In Leviticus, God calls the Israelites to hear his commands and understand them to be the parameters of godly living. Paul teaches the church in 1 Timothy that loving, caring, and praying for one another leads to a peaceful and blessed life. In Matthew, Jesus says those who receive God’s Word and understand it are those who hold fast to all Christ commanded. Hearing God’s word is not enough. We must strive to understand the gospel and put it into action. Doing this we live into the fullness of our calling as disciples of our Lord Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, let my heart be good soil open to the seed of your Word. Amen.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Imagine holding in your hand a fresh, bright, red apple. There is not a single blemish on it; the apple is perfect and you cannot wait to take a bite. Sinking your teeth into the fruit, you suddenly realize there is something dreadfully wrong. The inside of the apple is not nearly as appetizing as you first thought. It is actually rotten at the core. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not discuss apples, but he did address things that on the outside seemed pleasing, but were much less so at the center.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out the difference between putting one’s self-righteousness on display in order to be seen by others, and practicing spiritual discipline in order to be seen by God. God calls people to worship, pray, give alms, and practice other forms of spiritual discipline. Jesus teaches that we should do these things in such a way that we might glorify and draw close to our Father in heaven. Our Savior gives clear instructions about how to live as a child of God, so that unlike the rotten apple, our outward appearance matches our core of love and commitment to God.
Prayer: Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight. Amen.