Friday May 26 2017

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Scripture: Ezekiel 1:28-3:3

Key verse: (2:6) . . . O, Mortal, do not be afraid of them and do not be afraid of their words . . .”

Reflection: Today’s passage describes the fantastic vision of God that Ezekiel experienced as he stood among the exiles along the river Chebar.  The heavens opened up with a stormy wind and flashes of fire.  He then describes what he saw — living creatures beyond description.  Over the centuries, many artists have tried to recreate Ezekiel’s vision based on these verses.  It is other-worldly and strange.  At the center of it all, is the glory of the LORD.  When Ezekiel saw this splendor, he fell on his face and heard the voice of someone speaking.   It is at this point in the story that Ezekiel received his call from God to go to the house of Israel with a message of lamentation, mourning and woe.  He had already experienced what it meant to be an exile, losing home and country.  It would be 11 more years before Jerusalem fell.  Ezekiel was sent by God to warn them that destruction was coming. God wasn’t ready to give up on Jerusalem even though the people had given up on God.  We can only imagine what a difficult task lay ahead for Ezekiel.  And yet, when he was filled with God’s spirit and ate the scroll containing the words of lamentation and woe, it tasted as sweet as honey — he was ready.

God gave Ezekiel what he needed to speak words that no one wanted to hear.  How often do we hear words of warning and yet, refuse to listen?  We may lash out in anger at the messenger. Is there someone in your life right now warning you that you are headed in the wrong direction?  Or have you been called to speak out against something that is unjust?   Are you fighting for the rights of others and challenging powerful systems that keep men, women and children from reaching their full potential?  Whatever the situation, remember that there are some words that are hard to hear. When we speak the truth in love, others may lash out in fear.  It was true in Ezekiel’s day and it is true in ours.

Prayer:  Holy God, give us the courage to follow your call and speak your word.  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].

 

Thursday May 25 2017

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Scripture: Matt. 28:16–20

Key verse: (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: It’s the first time for the disciples to be together, with Jesus, since scattering and abandoning Jesus at the cross. And what does Jesus take the opportunity to tell his friends?   Go!  It’s the great commission, though Jesus never calls it that.  Jesus calls it the I-have-authority-so-go-everywhere-baptize-teach-preach-remember-I-am-with-you-always-and-for-ever sermon.

It is an incredible if demanding commission.  It has the risk of being an impossible ask to a group of disciples who by all accounts failed miserably as disciples only a few short days before.  Go? All nations? Teaching everything?  Them?

The good news is that the commission is not just a sending out but a drawing in too. Jesus is not saying go away from me, but go with me, go to me, go for me.  With that kind of travel companion where couldn’t you go?

Prayer: For all that lies behind us Lord, we might need peace; for all that lies before us we probably need courage; for all that is upon us we  should have wisdom and grace.  What we really ask for Lord is you.  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].

Wednesday May 24 2017

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Scripture: Luke 12:22-31

Key verse: (31) “Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and all these things will be given you as well.”

Reflection: “Do not worry about your life.”  That’s what Jesus tells the disciples in our reading for the day.  Really?  Don’t worry.  That’s it?  Easier said than done.  It seems anxiety is at the heart of the human condition.  Simply saying, “Don’t worry, be happy,” won’t work.  In his book, Good and Evil: Interpreting a Human Condition, theologian Edward Farley suggests our anxiety grows from “the intrinsic vulnerability and tragic character of the human condition.”  At every level of human existence—the personal, the interpersonal, and the social — we are vulnerable, and that makes us anxious.

On an individual level, we have a passion for self-preservation, yet we are finite beings who will all eventually die.  We are vulnerable to physical injury, disease, pain, and death.  This inherent conflict between our passion for life and the reality of death leads us to be anxious.  Interpersonally we desire a relationship with others. To quote Genesis, “it is not good for a person to be alone.”  But human relationships require us to be vulnerable.  When we open our heart to another, we run the risk of being rejected.  At some point, we will all be hurt. This tension born of the vulnerability inherent in relationship makes us anxious.  The vulnerabilities of our personal lives and relationships expand to the social realm.  We are built for community, yet there is a tragic reality that we cannot all get along. We herd together around categories of race, ethnicity, economic status, politics, religion, or nation, just to name a few.  These groups inevitably clash in seeking to meet their own needs, making us chronically anxious.

To ease our anxieties we seek some form of security in the material world.  We believe that if we only had more money, or more power, or a younger physique, or a more attractive face, then we would be secure.  But our anxieties are only enhanced.  The Bible has a word for that: idolatry.  Nothing in the material world can ease this anxiety, only that which is beyond the material can temper our worry.  Paul Tillich, Farley’s teacher, called this antidote, “being founded in the sacred,” in “the ground of being.”  Jesus put it this way: “Strive for God’s kingdom.”  In the midst of life’s anxiety, seek God’s abiding presence.  That’s what we do when we read a devotional.  That’s what we do when we take time for prayer and meditation.  That’s what we do when we volunteer at the Crisis Assistance Center, or the Men’s Shelter, or at Billingsville, or at the Habitat build.  That’s what we do in worship.  We seek God, and if only for those moments, our anxieties are eased.

This is the tension that is the life of faith.  Jesus knows these tensions.  If he didn’t, why would he have had to tell his disciples not to worry?  As you face the anxieties today will have to offer you, as the old praise song puts it, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”  May God’s abiding presence bring you calm in the midst of life’s storms, and that peace that passes all understanding to guard your heart and mind in Christ.

Prayer: I take a moment this day to be still … and to know that you are God … and to know you are with me. Thank you for your presence.  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 May 23 2017

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Scripture: James 1:16-27

Key verse: (17) Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Reflection: “The year 2017 marks 500 years since a stubborn monk and towering thinker, Martin Luther, published his 95 theses or complaints against the Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation, a momentous religious revolution whose consequences we still live with today.” [1] Later Luther proposed changes to the “canon,” the list of books included in the Bible.  Luther referred to the Letter of James as an “epistle of straw” and attempted to remove it from scripture because the authorship was questionable, the letter says little about Jesus Christ, and the focus of the letter is on human behavior.

Fortunately, Luther didn’t prevail and the Letter of James remains in our Bibles! Our lives are lived in response to God’s love revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  Much of the New Testament focuses on that love as we see it in Christ but James focuses on our response.

Every act of giving and every perfect gift comes from God. God loves us first and we respond by living out our faith. In Jesus Christ we see God’s generous and sacrificial love. We respond by giving generously and sacrificially for God’s work in the world.

As our church mission statement reminds us:

Claimed by the love of God in Jesus Christ,

we are called into this community of faith

living out our love for God

in worship, study, and service,

loving and supporting one another

as we join God’s transforming work

in our city and in the world.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee. Though changest not; thy compassions they fail not. As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.” May I live with your generosity, your faithfulness, and your compassion today.  Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[1] PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly February 3, 2017

[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 May 22 2017

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Scripture: Luke 9:18-27

Key verses: (20, 23-25) 20 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” … 23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

Reflection: Could Jesus really be the Messiah of God? Peter was bold enough to wonder aloud. The other disciples kept silent, no doubt eager to see how Jesus would react to Peter’s claim. There were many claimants to this title, all promising the world to those who would follow them. Tradition said the Messiah would make the people and the nation exalted once again. So, if Jesus was the Messiah, the disciples’ fortune was guaranteed.

But, as in so many other areas of life and religion, Jesus did not conform to tradition, but redefined it! If Jesus was the Messiah, they were told, they could expect to bear their cross daily, that is, face the threat of death daily. Not an exalted way to live, is it? Rather that becoming more important, they would deny themselves. Those who pursued a safe and secure life above all things would not find it. Those who were willing to follow Jesus even to the point of losing their life for the sake of God’s kingdom would paradoxically, find their life saved and fulfilled.

The point of following Jesus is not to gain all the world offers and, in so doing, losing what God has called us to be. The point of following Jesus is to lose our selves in the following so that we will find and live life in the fullness of God’s embrace.

Before you call Jesus Messiah, make sure you are not looking for a Messiah that conforms to your hopes and dreams.  Make sure you understand what it means to call Jesus the Messiah of God and what that will require of you.

Prayer: Save us from bold pronouncements that do not count the cost. Give us courage to follow the way you have made known. Help us to find our live by following you. In the name of Jesus, the Messiah of God, we pray.  Amen.

Author: Von Clemans

[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 May 19 2017

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Scripture: Deuteronomy 31:30 – 32:14

Key verses: (31:30-32:3)

31:30Then Moses recited the words of this song, to the very end, in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:
32:1 Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
2   May my teaching drop like the rain,
my speech condense like the dew;
like gentle rain on grass,
like showers on new growth.
3   For I will proclaim the name of the LORD;
ascribe greatness to our God!

Reflection: It’s a time of transition for some families. School years are winding down. Graduations are taking place. Young people are moving up, moving out, and moving into new situations. Transitions like these are bittersweet for many. Goals that have been long-planned, and eagerly sought, suddenly mean big changes.

As I dropped my eldest off at his first apartment this week, I wondered again: have I taught him what he needs to know? I think we did pretty well before he moved into a dorm. He knew how to do laundry, and get himself up in the morning. He had a pretty good grasp of basic money skills. He has spent time abroad on his own. But another move towards more independence make me wonder all over again: Will he be a good housemate and take his turn doing dishes? Will he ever clean his bathroom? Does he know how to deal with a landlord?

Reading these words of Moses in Deuteronomy, I hear the prayer of a parent during a time of change. Moses delivers a couple of long stirring speeches, over several chapters, to the people of Israel before they move into the Promised Land without him. He wonders if they know enough to step confidently into God’s future.  He prays that his teaching from long years past will be like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth, that nurtures a good harvest. Mostly he reminds them (and perhaps himself) to trust always in God, whose faithfulness is strong and sure. God has walked with them through long years to get to this point of change. Trust in that same faithful God for the next steps is what will see them through. May we all walk confidently into the future in that same trust and faith.

Prayer: Lord, you have always been there, guiding and correcting, nurturing and sustaining. Walk with all those facing change. Accompany us all on our way into your future, trusting in your faithfulness and love. In the name of Christ we 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].

 

Thursday May 18 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 99

Key verse: (9) “Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.”

Reflection: I have praised God for many things during my life, but I can’t remember ever praising God for God’s holiness – at least not directly. The definition of holy is:  specially recognized or declared sacred, having a spiritually pure quality; or entitled to worship or veneration.  The word is most often used as an adjective, but it also can be used as a noun to name a place of worship or sacred place.  (The Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem comes to mind.)

Scripture affirms that God is Holy “other” — different from us and beyond our comprehension.  Yet, we have a deep need to try to explain who God is and what God means to us.  Today’s psalm reminds us that …

The LORD is King.

The LORD is great and exalted.

The LORD is a lover of justice.

The LORD is forgiving.

The LORD is our God.

The LORD is holy.  This holiness is powerful.  It reminds us of who we are and who we are not.  It reminds us that God acts in the world and in our individual lives.  God hears us, advocates for us, answers us, forgives us, and defends us.  Great men and women throughout history and in the biblical record have been led by this holy LORD – the same God who leads us.  I know that I am very thankful that God is greater than I am.  This leads me to give thanks and to praise the One who cherishes and sustains me.

So, as I read today’s psalm, I am reminded of the blessings God’s holiness brings.  Praise the LORD!

Prayer: Holy God, we give thanks that you are great and powerful!  May the mention of your name strike awe in our hearts as we reflect on your strength and tenderness.  Help us to give praise to you today and every day.  In Jesus’ 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].