Home Altar: Week of May 30, 2021

by Jen Christianson

Sunday, May 30
ISAIAH 6:1-8

The Fear of the Lord

It’s a phrase I don’t hear all that often these days: “The fear of the Lord.” Maybe that’s because fear is considered too negative, too emblematic of an overbearing leader and not indicative of the close, loving relationship we want to have with God. But this passage reminds me that fear is a very natural—even appropriate—response to God’s power and glory. It’s the kind of fear you experience standing on a mountaintop or looking out on the swells of the ocean, fear that reminds you how small you really are. Fear as a kind of respect and awe. Perhaps that’s how Isaiah feels when he beholds this vision of God. But even despite this fear, what I love about this passage is that God doesn’t leave Isaiah in his fear: God calls and commissions him to go and prophesy. We can be confident that no matter how small we feel or how great our fear of the Lord, God still has a place and work for us too.

Holy God, even as we stand in awe and fear of you, help us to accept with courage the part you have for us in your mission and ministry. AMEN.

Monday, May 31
John 3:1-15

The Blessing of Nighttime

There’s a detail of this story I often miss: Nicodemus came by night. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, part of the group of religious elite who are skeptics of Jesus’s message, who soon become his outright opponents—he comes to Jesus, full of curiosity and questions and faith. But he comes by night. I often think of night as a negative thing—a time of darkness and fear—but Nicodemus reminds me that there is a perk to coming to Jesus at night. At least in this story, coming at night means that all of the pretense of the day is stripped away, all of the hustle and bustle is quieted down. And so Nicodemus is left to be his truest self, full of questions and doubts. He can ask Jesus what’s on his mind without fear of what others may think. In so doing, he can grow in his faith and in his knowledge and love of God. Perhaps we should all make it a point to come to Jesus this way.

Jesus, remind us through this story how important it is that we come to you, openly and honestly; that we bring you our doubts and our questions, our hopes and our fears. AMEN

Tuesday, June 1
JOHN 3:16-17

Not Condemnation, but Salvation

John 3:16 is one of those verses that forever sticks in many of our memories. I’m pretty sure I have Sunday school to thank for that—the enticement of a piece of candy if I could commit a verse to memory. The verse had several appeals: it wasn’t too long or too complicated, and it was also a favorite of the adults, a fitting summary of the Christian story.

But I realize now that verse 17 is perhaps just as important, albeit one we often skip over: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God so loved the world that God sent his own Son to save it. Not to condemn it or destroy it. He could have done those things, but he wanted to save it. To save us. God so loved the world, so loved us, still loves us that much. And that, certainly, is worth remembering.

God, as we seek to follow you faithfully in this world, remind us how much you love about the world! That you loved it so much, you chose to save it, despite all our flaws. Thank you. And help us live as those who love you and love your world too. AMEN.

Wednesday, June 2
JOHN 4:46-54

Faith Enough to Go

When was the last time you wanted something badly enough to walk 20 miles, risk your reputation, and beg an itinerant preacher for help? The centurion in this text wants something as badly as any of us ever have: healing for his son. He traveled all those miles, defied the establishment he worked for, and even faced Jesus’s rebuke, saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (v. 48)—all for the sake of the one he loved.

That’s some kind of love, some kind of faith. Even more, I am struck by the faith it took for him to believe Jesus and walk away when he said, “Go; your son will live” (v. 50). Many of us when faced with something we want will have faith enough to ask Jesus for it—but what about faith enough to trust in him, to lay it down, to walk away? That, I think, is the harder task, but one we are nevertheless called to.

Gracious God, remind us to come to you with the deepest desires of our hearts and to trust you enough to lay them down at your feet. Give us the faith we need, like the centurion, to believe and to go. AMEN.

Thursday, June 3
ROMANS 5:6-11

Even at Our Worst, God Wants Our Best

To this day, my parents still attend the church I grew up in, a few exits down the highway from our home in Massachusetts. When I manage to be there on a Sunday morning, I know that I will worship with people who have known me my whole life: seen me in diapers (yikes), as an angsty teenager, and as a young adult grappling with her call to ministry. There’s something wonderful about this, and also very humbling. These people have seen me at what I would call my worst—yet they still love me. It’s among the closest human experiences I have to the kind of love Paul describes here: the kind of love God felt for us even as we were sinners, which prompted him to sacrifice his Son for us. It’s love that saved our lives but shouldn’t trap us in shame or regret. It is love that sets us free and emboldens us, even allowing us to boast in God, Paul says.

God, how incredible it is to reflect that you who know us at our very worst still love us enough to sacrifice your Son for us. Help us not to be held back by shame or fear, but to fully embrace the resurrected life you have for us, and to do so with joy. AMEN.

FRIDAY, June 4
ROMANS 8:12-17

Children and Heirs

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, there was still much tension between Gentile and Jewish Christians—between those who followed the law and those who did not. They had been taught that Christ fulfilled the law for them, but there was still a lingering sense of fear and shame: What if we missed something? What if there’s a loophole and we’re in trouble after all? What if we are found to have come up short? Can Christ really have set us free to live by the Spirit and not the law? Paul tells them as clearly as he can: it’s true! You are no longer enslaved to the law, to the flesh, to fear or shame. So stop worrying! You have been adopted by God, through the actions of Christ, and you are now beloved children—indeed even heirs with Christ! Rather than their fearfully and timidly accepting this reality, the invitation is clear: claim it proudly, boldly, and with certainty.

Almighty God, we struggle even now to believe that the work of Christ has set us free from all shame and fear. Remind us that because of what Christ has done, we are free and beloved and adopted by you. Help us to claim that identity boldly and with great faith. AMEN.

Saturday, June 5

Pressing On

Even today, centuries after the coming of Christ, we struggle with the difference between acting in response to our salvation and trying to earn it. We even have terminology for it: “works righteousness” is the mistaken idea that we can earn our salvation, and “sanctification” the somewhat more complicated idea that we grow in grace by responding to the salvation we already have.

Paul offers here a different approach. I strive, he says, to make righteousness through faith my own, because Christ has already made me his own. We have nothing to earn and nothing to prove. We are Christ’s own. We live, not in anxious striving but by leaning deeper and deeper into that belonging, seeking to make righteousness through faith our own, confident that no matter what, we are God’s own.

Christ Jesus, when we get caught in the trap of thinking we have to earn your love or your salvation, remind us that you have already made us your own. Help us seek righteousness by faith and to lean deeper into the identity you have already given us. AMEN.

About the Author: Jen Christianson

 These days, you can find me serving as pastor of congregational life at Winnetka Covenant Church in Wilmette, Illinois. My job encompasses all the things I love most about ministry: preaching, Christian formation, and pastoral care. A lifelong Covenanter, I grew up in the Attleboro (Massachusetts) Covenant Church before heading off to school. After three years at Princeton Theological Seminary and another few years working for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, coming to Winnetka feels like coming home. It’s good to be back in a Covenant setting, near the water and surrounded by a tight-knit church family as I serve in my first role as an ordained minister. My family has some roots in the Midwest, which explains why this all feels so familiar and right: church potlucks, summers on the beach, and harsh winters made better by lots of baking and snuggles with my rescue dog, Zoe.

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