Friday November 24 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 20

Key verses: (3-4)

3 May he remember all your offerings,

and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.

4 May he grant you your heart’s desire,

and fulfill all your plans.

Reflection: It’s the perfect text for our made up Black Friday holiday — it’s like God is blessing and encouraging all of our shopping fantasies: may he grant you your hearts desire!

But quickly let’s note that the Bible doesn’t once mention shopping malls. In this psalm it’s not really about what you can get, but more in celebrating what you have done.  Your offerings, which is to say all that you do and say and share and give — God remembers!  Nothing is lost with our Lord.  Like a parent who keeps every pipe cleaner bracelet and hand print painted on construction paper — our Lord gathers our offerings, accepting and celebrating our efforts at pleasing him.

If you have a moment today, look over your work, think about the offerings of love you meted out lately, the food you prepared, the hugs you gave, the hands you held, the words you said (or the words you held back!) and ask God to bless it all,  to take your giving and deepen it.  Invite God to take your offerings and run with them — so that through him, your gifts become very real reminders of what is good, of what is fair, what is right and what is true.  Ask God to join you and help you do what you can with what you have, where you are.  God will make your offerings an even bigger deal than you will find shopping today. Guaranteed.

Prayer: Lord, see me as I love and share in these festive days.  Take what I give  and enable through your power to make my gifts, blessings to those who need them most. Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[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].

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Thursday November 23 2017

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Scripture: Revelation 21:22-22:5

Key verse: (22:2) “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

Reflection: Happy Thanksgiving!  The daily lectionary offers us a reading from the end of Revelation — nothing like an apocalyptic vision to get the juices flowing for today’s feasts.

John’s vision describes the City of God, our destiny as God’s people.  It is a glorious vision. There is no Temple in the city — good news for us pastors, our work is done!  It is not needed, for we will all dwell within God.  There’s no dreary darkness; God’s glory is the only light needed.  It’s gates are always open, and the nations stream in with all their resources for all to enjoy.  Evil is not allowed, but since it was destroyed in chapter 20, we need not worry about that.  There’s a beautiful river flowing through the middle of the city, with a great tree providing abundant fruit twelve months a year with leaves that heal the world.

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This painting by James Janknegt is no doubt inspired by John’s vision.  This beautiful tree, with a river around it, abundant fruit provided for all to eat, big beautiful leaves —surely they hold healing powers. Underneath the tree a family enjoys a feast.  It looks like Thanksgiving.  Yet the painting is incongruent.  Around the tree there is a different picture.  Sawing, burning, trees being felled. And beneath the table, furniture making.  In North Carolina, that would surely be hopeful.  It’s entitled, “Furniture Making During Drought Time.” It seems to show prosperity in the midst of struggle, or perhaps illumines the incongruity of prosperity and struggle.

That’s what Revelation is in its original context.  It is a vision of hope in the midst of a world where Christians were struggling; enduring great persecution.  It’s a vision of victory for God in a world where it seems evil too often wins.

So it is with Thanksgiving.  This day we embody life as it is supposed to be lived, orienting our lives around thanksgiving to God and to one another.  Embodying this thanksgiving through love in a world too often defined by division and hate.

Perhaps the reading from Revelation is perfect for today.   In a world where religion too often divides us, where darkness seems to define the day, where wars devastate nations and produce refugees who flee only to find locked gates, where abominations define most headlines and homepages, where the vast majority of the world never knows a day of feasting like Thanksgiving,  may God’s vision of tomorrow pour into our Thanksgiving Day, inspiring us to join God’s transforming work in the world.

Prayer: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 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].

 

Wednesday November 22 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 17: 22-27

Key verses: (22-23) “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill him, . . .”

Reflection: While they are gathered together, Jesus springs this bad news on them – he was going to be arrested and killed.  I wonder went through the disciples minds.  It says that they felt grief when he told them this, but did they understand?  I think that the thought of his death was inconceivable to them, including the promise that after three days he would be raised from the dead.  Denial can be a wonderful thing.  It can keep us from facing the inevitable.  We don’t want to think about how many years, months or days are left. Denial of death is all around us and it takes many shapes and forms.

The disciples would soon find out that they were not following a worldly king who promised power and position.  Jesus was a different kind of king.  He was the Messiah. He lived our life, died our death and was miraculously raised from the dead.  Jesus healed the sick, gave hope to the broken-hearted, protected the weak and forgave the most heinous sin.  He preached a message of hope that changed the lives of countless people.  All these acts of compassion challenged worldly power and he knew he would be killed for it.  He would end up paying the ultimate price.  But, praise be to God the grave could not hold him and his message of love and justice continues.

Prayer: Eternal God, we give thanks for Jesus who called us to take up our cross and follow him.  We confess it can be challenging to follow Jesus.  Give us courage to stand up for what is right as we work to correct what is wrong in our community and world giving thanks for Jesus’ example.  In His name we pray.  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].

Tuesday November 21 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 36

Key verse: (9) For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

Reflection: Children of light is a name the Bible gives you, child of God.  It’s an intriguing image that’s worth us playing with.  We could put: bearer of light on our LinkedIn page when it asks for a list of skills and under hobbies we could type: shining.  On every college application you could justifiably and with theological certainty declare you are very, very bright.  Like, ten thousand lumen bright.

I know, we don’t need more reasons in our selfie crazed lives to feel even more glossy or inflated.  But in real and important ways, you child of light, shine.  We can’t help it.  Try to turn it off – you can’t.  You are like a window with no curtains – you cannot help your luminescence because you are not it’s source.  The light of the world, that light the deep darkness can never overcome, shines upon you and through you.  Whether you feel pretty or pretty ugly, you are always radiant.  Oh sure, people can be dim and dull I suppose, but God yet shines through.

In God’s light, we see light.  Which is to say in part that to see ourselves and this world in God’s light is to see ourselves and this world as it should intimately and always be seen: bathed in light and shining for all to see.

Prayer:

Shine, Jesus, shine

Fill this land with the Father’s glory

Blaze, Spirit, blaze

Set our hearts on fire

Flow, river, flow

Flood the nations with grace and mercy

Send forth your word

Lord, and let there be light

Author: Derek Macleod

[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 November 20 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 17:1-13

Key verses: (1-7) 1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

Reflection: The problem with following someone is that you end up where they do.  The disciples learned that about following Jesus. From the top of a mountain with a dazzling vision and the rock-stars of Jewish history, to a criminal’s cross and death. It must have been hard to keep up.

Immediately after this story, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus comes down off the mountain and enters an angry crowd, dealing with a man whose son is violently ill, and the father asks Jesus to heal his son from the unclean spirit within him. The boy has been rolling on the ground, foaming at the mouth, and Jesus reaches out and touches him. He doesn’t stay radiant and removed on the mountain. He comes down and gets messy with the children of God. His bleached white robes get muddied with the evidence of encounters with others: a sick woman who touches his garment, a dying friend, hungry people, poor people.

We’d like to stay on the mountain in our clean robes and heavenly vision and heroes of the past, who wouldn’t?  Instead our task is to follow Jesus back down into the dirty work of loving others, and be transfigured ourselves. Not as Jesus was, but as his disciples were and always are. Despite how cleaned up we might get for worship, when we head down the mountain following Jesus, we don’t wear robes bleached dazzling white, pristine and holy. When we follow the leader, our robes end up stained by soup at Urban Ministries, or dusty from a Habitat build. They end up looking like a wadded up Kleenex from the hospital waiting room, or wrinkled from kneeling in prayer. They are bundled in an overhead bin on the way to a mission trip in El Salvador, or given away completely to those who need them more.

As we enter a season of celebration, and consumerism, with the temptation to keep Jesus a manageable little baby in a manger, let’s not forget the work he calls us to in his name. Let’s prepare to follow him wherever he leads us, together.

Prayer: Lord, I want to follow you. Help me keep my eyes on you. Help me trust and follow wherever you lead me. Help me love others in your name, and be transformed. In the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[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 November 17 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20

Key verses: (13-18)  13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church

Reflection: Jesus’ affirmation of Peter is not surprising. He is a good disciple.  However, Jesus does not respond to Peter’s leadership or even his success as a disciple. Jesus does not list the accomplishments of Peter or cite favorable references for why the church will begin here. Jesus responds to Peter’s testimony.

A testimony that is a historic confession of faith at Caesarea of Philippi.  It is on the testimony of Peter that Jesus says he will build the church. Peter boldly stepped forward with one of the most profound Christological affirmations in scripture.

Who do you say that I am??

Peter was direct saying … I have experienced you, Jesus as the Messiah. I know you were sent to us as the son of the living God. You have shown me the kingdom of God.

What would you say?  What should we say as a church?

We testify as a community in all that we are and all that we do.  We are a living witness to burning bushes, resurrection moments, storms being calmed through the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.

What are others hearing about our testimony?

As the church, let us be bold in naming, claiming and proclaiming the work of Christ in our lives.

Prayer: Be upon each thing our eyes take in.

Be upon each thing our ears take in,

Be upon our bodies which come from Earth

Be upon our souls which come from heaven, evermore and evermore.  Amen.
(Prayer from the Iona Community.)

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].

Thursday November 16 2017

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Scripture: Revelation 21:1-8

Key verses: (1-2) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Reflection: What will heaven be like? What do you imagine eternal life with God will be like? I grew up with visions of white fluffy clouds and cherubic figures playing musical instruments. I hear euphemisms about the “golf course in the sky” or “the happy hunting ground” or “six feet under.” I have a wonderful children’s book that describes eternal life like a big gathering of diverse people, playing games and eating together. The book is called Jubilee.

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John of Patmos describes a new heaven and a new earth that replaces the old, and a city coming down out of heaven from God. It’s a remarkable affirmation that God doesn’t call us “up” and away from the reality of bodily life. Instead God brings the new city down to us. Sounds like something our God would do, a God who chose to be born as a baby and live in our midst!  As we wait and watch for what God is doing, let’s keep our eyes open for glimpses of the eternal. God is at work making all things new.

Prayer: Creator God, you are at work making a new heaven and a new earth. You are making me a new creation by your transforming powerful grace. Enable me to see your eternal kingdom in this time and place. Through Christ I pray. 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].