Friday July 19 2019

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Scripture: Mark 1:1-13

Key verse: (11) “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

Reflection: The first child I ever baptized was a wide-eyed four-year-old who didn’t absolutely hate having a few minutes to herself in the spotlight.  She was eager and engaged the week before as we stood on the marble steps of that sanctuary and peered into the font together, and I explained to her what we would do that Sunday, including the part where I would dip my hands into the cool water and dribble it onto her brow in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  I explained that all of this meant that she was a child of God – and that that was very good news. I also assured her that we could work around her favorite sequined headband.

When the day came, I stood on that same marble step and I invited her and her parents to come forward.  We went through the liturgy we had discussed, and after a prayer over the water, I made my hand into a cup and brought the water to her head just as we had practiced.  And that’s when she turned to me, and in a loud whisper said, “This is when we do the good news part, right?” “Right!” I replied as the congregation laughed.  She turned proudly back toward them, ready to receive the blessing.

I don’t remember my own baptism, but I’ll never forget hers, and her perfectly timed question.  She broke up what can often be a rote ritual with a fresh reminder that what we were enacting was the good news that Jesus Christ claims us – all of us – as children of God.  In baptism, we are made one with him over whom the Spirit proclaimed, “This is my child, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”  In baptism, we claim that promise is true for us as well.  God loves us and God delights in us.

Our job as beloved children of God is to share with others the good news of their own belovedness.  Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

“When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness. Instead of making us feel that we are better, more precious or valuable than others, our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others. That is the great joy of being chosen: the discovery that others are chosen as well. In the house of God there are many mansions. There is a place for everyone – a unique, special place. Once we deeply trust that we ourselves are precious in God’s eyes, we are able to recognize the preciousness of others and their unique places in God’s heart” (Life of the Beloved)

There are so many ways to share the good news of someone’s belovedness with them.  With whom might you share it today?  I wonder if you might treat this day as the time “when we get to do the good news part.”

Prayer:  Thank you for a fresh reminder of who I really am, O God: someone who is deeply loved by you. Make me a participant in your good news today, so that I might help others feel your love in real ways, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Thursday July 18 2019

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Scripture: Mark 2:23-3:6

Key verses: (2:27-28, 3:1-2)  Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

Reflection: The youth from Myers Park Presbyterian Church are at Montreat this week with 1,200 other youth from across the country. Our youth are tired. Not just physically tired but emotionally tired. We all live over-programmed and under-processed days and our young people are no different. Sabbath gives us the permission we need to stop.  Sabbath is a gift given by God to restore our souls.  The root word for Sabbath literally means “to stop”, not collapse, hide, distract or avoid. We tend to treat Sabbath rest as that bubble bath or nap that will save you from exhaustion.  Holy rest, Sabbath, comes long before that time in the middle of every week.  Sabbath moments are more than a bubble bath or sleep. Sabbath requires intentionality.

Keeping Sabbath offers us the God-given gift of holy rest. It allows us time to look at ourselves and at our lives apart from the everyday world. More important, it offers extended time and space to give thanks and praise to God for the many gifts in our lives. Sabbath is time that you set aside, regardless of the day.

Consider the faith practice of Sabbath. Take time to stop in the middle of this crazy week to ask, consider, and answer the questions that will lead to a more complete and joyful life. Sabbath is a faith practice that has the potential to redirect our days, inviting Christ in to bring transformation.

Prayer: Here in this moment, God, I am still before you. Surround me with your loving presence until I can breathe easy. Guide me in this Sabbath moment and always. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Wednesday July 17 2019

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Scripture: Acts 12:18-25

Key verse: (22) “The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”

Reflection: Today’s reading from Acts is not in my top 10 passages of Scripture.  In fact, I’ve never preached this text in my life.  I’ve preached about Peter being freed from prison in Acts 12:1-17.  I’ve preached about Barnabas and Saul/Paul and their ministry in Cyprus that comes immediately after it, but I’ve never carefully studied Acts 12:18-25.  It’s a bizarre story about the death of Herod Agrippa.  According to the Roman Historian Josephus, Herod Agrippa died from an illness he contracted in 44 AD immediately after people began proclaiming that he was a god.  The writer of Acts inserts this historical episode into Acts 12, reporting that the people of Tyre and Sidon sought reconciliation with Herod because they depended on Judea for their food.  So Herod decided to give them an audience, putting on his royal garb and pontificating some royal proclamation.  The people responded by claiming he was a god.  The Living God responded by giving him a bad case of worms which proved to be fatal.  Now you understand why I’ve never preached this passage!

What word might God have to offer us from this strange story rooted in historical fact?  There is certainly a warning about confusing the powers of the world with the power of God.  The citizens of Tyre and Sidon believed their sustenance came from Herod, not God.  In their desperation, they turned Herod from the brutal ruler he was into a false god.  Such idolatry can indeed be deadly.  What challenges do we face that leave us desperate?  To whom do we turn in our desperation?  Surely help comes in many forms, but we must never confuse the means by which we receive our help with the God from whom it comes.  In the passage, despite squads of soldiers deployed to arrest Peter and keep him imprisoned, despite the brutality of Herod Agrippa and his bombastic proclamations, the Word of God continues to advance, for the Gospel cannot be contained by any earthly power.

Prayer: O God, when we feel tempted to give our allegiance to any earthly power, remind us that you alone are God, from you all blessings come, and to you alone be all glory and honor. Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday July 16 2019

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Scripture: Acts 12:1-17

Key verse: (5) “While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.”

Reflection: The disciples in the early church put their lives on the line for the gospel.  Their faith and courage is humbling.  Peter, and so many others, were willing to die.  And, many did, including James in our scripture passage today.  After his death, Peter was arrested and chained in a prison cell. He must have thought he was next to die.  Then, something miraculous happened. An angel of the Lord appeared and the chains fell from his wrists.  Thinking he was experiencing a vision, he didn’t realize what was happening to him.  The angel led him out of the prison and the next thing he knew he was free and outside.  So, Peter made his way to Mary’s (the mother of John Mark) house where the church was praying for him.  The maid Rhoda answered the door, recognized Peter, then forgot to let him in.  When she hurries to tell everyone that Peter was at the door, they thought she was out of her mind.  Peter kept knocking and eventually they let him in and were amazed.  They had been praying for Peter and now he was free.  As one commentator has said: “Prayer is a defiant act because it recognizes the purpose of a sovereign God will win out in the end.”  This is one reason why members of the early church were so willing to die for their faith. They were standing up for what they believed, through their actions and their prayers, because they knew that no matter the outcome, God would win in the end.  They were confident in prayer knowing that God heard them.  They trusted that God could release anyone who was held captive.   This didn’t mean there wouldn’t be suffering or death.  Standing up for what they believed in had a cost and their faith gave them the ability to pay it.  The early church chose to defy Herod.  They didn’t storm the gates of the palace with protests; but they stormed the gates of the palace with prayer.  This, and their continued sharing of the gospel with others, was their response to the earthly powers that tried to stop them.  The consequences they faced were great, but God was greater.  In spite of persecution, the church continued to grow as more and more people chose to answer God’s call to follow Jesus and accept him as their Savior.  What might happen if we chose to stand up to the powers that be, willing to pay the price, so that others might know something of Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Mighty God, in the face of all that holds us back or holds us down, give us faith.  Make us into disciples willing to make personal sacrifices to proclaim your love, acceptance, forgiveness and justice to a hurting world.  Help us to stand up to any powers that oppress – confident in prayer and courageous in protest.  Be with us, now and always in Jesus name. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday July 15 2019

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Scripture: Acts 11:19-30

Key verse: (26b) So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Reflection: In today’s key verse we learn when the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians. We are so familiar with that word that we might not be aware of its origin.

Jesus’ followers were known as his disciples. The word “disciple” has the same root as the word “discipline,” so disciples are like apprentices who study with a master in hopes of imitating the master’s behaviors. The disciples were also known as followers of the Way. Jesus taught that he was the way, the truth and the life. A follower of the Way was someone who was trying to live like Jesus lived in the world. Do you notice that both of those terms are about a way of life and not about accepting a list of beliefs?

The word “Christian” is used only three times in the Bible (Acts 11:26 above, and also in Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16). The implication is that it was used as a term of derision by the residents of Antioch to describe the disciples.

I think it’s interesting that the disciples were labeled as Christians by outsiders and it wasn’t a label they chose for themselves. Do those around you see so much of Christ in your life that they would label you a “Christian”? Are you living in the Way of Jesus in the world? Are you an apprentice who is growing in imitating the master?

Prayer: Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart. Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart. By the power of your grace, transform my life to reveal the Way of Jesus. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday July 12 2019

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Scripture: Mark 3:7-19

Key verse: (9) He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him;

Reflection: I am always particularly interested in the role of “the crowd” in the Gospel of Mark. Here in chapter 3, Jesus is already surrounded by a crowd so great that there were concerns it would “crush” him (3:9), and his disciples have been asked to prepare ways to keep him safe – in this case, by having a boat for him at the ready so he could have a little bit of space. Toward the end of this passage, we are told that Jesus goes home, and even there, the crowd is so great, that he and his disciples can’t even eat (3:20).  There is a sense of urgency to this crowd – they want to be near Jesus because he has healed so many (and it is true – read the first two chapters, and you’ll see that his ministry is almost completely one of miraculous healing). The crowd’s great collective hope, the thing that draws them together towards Christ, is their hope in his healing power.

I wonder if the church is that kind of crowd. It seems to me that we who follow Jesus are those who, in one way or another, have either experienced some kind of healing or renewal at his hand, or are longing to find such a blessing from him. The church is a group of people who have heard the good news about Jesus’ ability to bring life, hope, and restoration to the world, and who gather together in hopes of finding these things in his presence.

Where have you experienced healing and wholeness as you have followed Jesus?  Do you still expect these things?  Is worship, or Sunday School, or service, or a fellowship group you are a part of a place where you open yourself up to earnestly seeking such a blessing?

Prayer: As I seek after Christ, give me a hopeful and expectant heart, trusting that with him, there is life, hope, and restoration. Amen.

Author: Anna Dickson

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday July 11 2019

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Scripture: Acts 8:26-40

Key verses: (29-31) Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Reflection: In reading this passage, I wonder what it means to “guide” someone in their faith journey.  Does it invite us to consider sitting beside others as they do the hard work of faith? This week, I am grateful for our adult leaders who are being “guides” for middle school youth. They are spending 24 hours in the Heifer Project International Global Village and will need some guidance to understand the experience.  I also am grateful for the people in our everyday life who walk beside us as we read scripture, ask questions and raise our doubts.

Looking into what it means to “guide”, I found that the Greek word, hodegeo, is used only four other places in the New Testament.  Twice, in Luke and Matthew, it is used in variations of the idiom “the blind leading the blind.”  I love this phrase because we are always looking for an expert when in reality, we might be the perfect guide.  The Greek word for guide also gets used in the gospel of John in reference to the Holy Spirit.  Late in Jesus’ ministry, as he says goodbye, Jesus promises his disciples another advocate, the Spirit, who will guide (hodegeo) them into all truth.

As a guide, the Spiritual work we are called to do, is to lead others in the Way of Jesus.  This assumes that we are disciples on this journey of faith. It assumes that we are growing in our faith and in our understanding of the Gospel in order to teach others.  It assumes, more than anything else, that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit, as was the case for Philip. May we all be open to being a guide on this journey of faith.

Prayer: God, may your holy spirit guide me today and every day. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].