Friday February 23 2018

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Scripture: Mark 2:13-22

Key verse: (22) And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Reflection: We are a couple of days into Lent and maybe you have given something up or taken something on as your spiritual practice. Since we are in the middle of our Lenten fast, it might seem a bit odd to be talking about Jesus and his disciples refusing to fast but here we are. Jesus is saying that the time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom is arriving. That is why they are not fasting.

Jesus pushes a bit further saying that some things have to change. We can’t squish the new life of the kingdom into old wineskins of that day.  It was not a new set of rules, or a more innovative type of religion but a whole new creation that Jesus was bringing. It is because of that new creation that we take time in this season to bring our lives in line with the Kingdom of God. We give up, take on or fast to say goodbye to everything in us that still clings to the old.

Prayer: Renew me, O God, by your far-reaching grace. Restore me, O God, to your Kingdom of Peace, Truth and Love. 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].

 

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Thursday February 22 2018

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

Key verse: (4) “For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?”

Reflection: Twenty-three years ago Harvard Public Policy Professor, Dr. Robert Putnam published an article in the Journal of Democracy entitled, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.”  The title of the article arose from the whimsical statistic that while between 1980 and 1993 the total number of bowlers in America increased by 10%, league bowling declined by 40%.  The article outlined many of the ideas that would become Putnam’s bestselling book in 2000.  Sighting the work of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”, written in the 1830’s, Putnam argued that Americans had gone from possessing an amazing propensity to form civic organizations, to abandoning those social institutions from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, in epic numbers. After sighting precipitous declines in everything from church membership to PTA participation, to the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, the Lions Club, the Elks Club, the Jaycees, the Masons, the Shriners, he concluded, “In sum, after expanding steadily throughout most of [the 20th century], many major civic organizations have experienced a sudden, substantial and nearly simultaneous decline in membership over the last decade or two.”  Putnam concluded that as a result of this decline, the social capital of our country was eroding, threatening the health of our democracy and our society.  The institutional church is a victim of this decline.

Twenty-three years later where are we? In 2004, Facebook was born.  In 2007, the first iPhone was released.  In some ways we are more connected than we ever have been; yet amidst all this connection, we are increasingly alone.  In 2011, Dr. Sherry Turkle, an MIT Social Scientist published “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other”.    I learned about her theories through her 2012 Ted Talk. See:  http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html   One of the precepts offered in the talk was, “I share therefore I am.”   This speaks of all the ways we tell the world our “status,” through Facebook posts and instagrams and snap chats and twitter.  She goes on to say, “As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves.”  Turkle concludes that virtual intimacy degrades our experience of encounters of any kind.  Ironically, though we are more connected than ever through technology, we are more isolated that ever because of the virtual intimacy we share through those connections.

How does faith relate to this?  According to Paul, we all belong to God, and to one another.  “We are God’s field, God’s building.” (3:9) He will go on to say in tomorrow’s reading from 1 Corinthians, “all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” Faith calls us not into virtual relationship, but into true relationship.  We belong together, because we belong to Christ.  How can we seek to live into this belonging today?  How can we move from virtual connection to meaningful connection?  What could you do today to reach out to another in a way that reflects they belong to you and you belong to them, because you both belong to God?

Prayer: Open my heart this day, O God, to see that all belong to me, and I belong to them, because we belong to You.  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 February 21 2018

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Scripture: I Corinthians 2:1-13

Key verse: (2) “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

Reflection: The Corinthian church challenged Paul as he taught them what it meant to follow Jesus.  They were influenced by the culture they lived in and as a consequence his letters to them were often corrective in nature.  The opening verses of chapter two are defensive as he explains how he is trying to embody faith.  He did not rely on human wisdom but on the power of God.  Many commentators suspect that Paul did not live up to the Corinthians cultural expectations of what a great teacher looked like.  Over the centuries people have wondered if he had a speech or physical impediment.  Paul, through his choice of words, tried to demonstrate that it’s not about how strong we are, but how strong God is. However, then and now people prefer to be the strong one in relationships – even in our relationship with God.  How easy it is to forget that we have been given the Spirit of God; not the Spirit of the world.  Yet, we struggle against the spirit of the world every day.  We are profoundly influenced by the messages we hear in social media, news feeds, offices, schools and neighborhoods.  It is easy to forget what the Spirit of God has freely given us because we want to live life our way.  Paul called the church at Corinth, and he calls us, to resist the wisdom of this age and fully embrace the wisdom of God. During the season of Lent this will require both repentance and forgiveness. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to live out our faith by relying on the power of God.  This means that no matter who you are, what gifts you possess, or how much you have or don’t have, God wants to use you to proclaim the saving love, acceptance, forgiveness, and justice of Jesus in the world.

What might happen if you started living this out today?

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to love you more and stop relying exclusively on our own strength.  Transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit to do your will and work in the world.  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].

Tuesday February 20 2018

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Scripture: Mark 1:14-28

Key verses: (14-15) Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Reflection: As a pastor, I wonder how much we should proclaim good news ABOUT Jesus and how much we should proclaim the good news that Jesus himself proclaimed.  What was the good news that Jesus proclaimed?

“The time is fulfilled.” If you are waiting for God to show up, waiting for God to initiate a relationship, waiting for God to break into the world with hope and peace and justice and grace, the time has come! In Jesus Christ, our longings are fulfilled. Faith is available right now. It’s time to follow Jesus, to be a disciple, to honor Jesus as Lord of your life, right now.

“The kingdom of God has come near.” God is not distant or removed from creation. We can live as citizens of God’s kingdom now. The kingdom isn’t an abstract idea about eternal life but it’s about a changed life in the world right now. God’s kingdom, or reign, is seen in the way Jesus lived in the world and we are invited to live in the way too.

“Repent.” How can repentance be good news? Repentance isn’t just about feeling guilty for things we have done. Repentance is about conscious choices to turn things around, to change, to behave differently. If the path you are on is headed for disaster, then turn around and walk the other way.

“Believe in the good news.” You were created in the image of God. You belong to God. You are called and claimed by God. You are invited to follow Jesus and to live in his way. Believe it. It’s good news!

Prayer: O God, you bring good news in Jesus Christ. Give me a heart of courage to follow him, give me eyes of faith to see his work in the world, and give me strength of will to accept his way of life. Thank you! 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].

Monday February 19 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 119:73-80

Key verse: (73) Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.

Reflection: Growing in faith matters. It matters because we are never done learning to be the people of God. There is always something more. Our faith is not a once-and-for-all thing that we attain. We have milestones along the way: baptism, confirmation, perhaps a significant Bible Study, or ministry, or mission trip, or ordination. But we never get to a faith milestone and have nothing left to learn. As we move through our days, we learn over and over again that we are human: frail and mortal and strong and loving, and our world is a broken beautiful mess. We have to learn over and over again to be the people of God in the face of illness, school shootings, politics, celebrations, death, birth, grades, work, arguments, sports schedules, art, love, loss, all of it.

We need each other to figure it out. By God’s providence, the church is holy and human, all at the same time. The Holy Spirit works through the church, and each one of us, as we worship, learn and serve in a world that needs God’s grace. Are you heartbroken by the news? Are you feeling called to serve? Are you wanting to grow in faith? Come be the church with us. Join us as together we learn God’s commandments, and seek to understand how to love God and our neighbors. We gather for worship and faith formation every Sunday, and plenty of other days and nights too. Invite a friend.

Prayer: Lord, Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Help me grow in faith. Together with all your people, help us be the church. 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 February 16 2018

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Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9

Key verses: (4-6) 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Reflection:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4) might be the second most memorized verse in scripture after John 3:16.  Paul urges this early church to claim the joy that comes with faith. We just started Lent, so we are really a bit cranky and somber about faith. Many people have given up something they rely on instead of God and after two days without caffeine, chocolate, wine, complaining, TV shows, social media or just being self-focused, we are not ready to rejoice. Always? Really?

Is church really about rejoicing? We come here to confess our sins and we are often focused on the confession instead of celebrating that we are forgiven. We complain too often about the lack of holiness, faithfulness or commitment instead of remembering that we are all children of God. We are too often frustrated by feelings of weakness or not being enough instead of being delighted the Holy Spirit is working in us with strength and power.  O.K., we probably need a reminder to “rejoice in the Lord.”

Paul opens his letter to this church with a request to be “constantly praying with joy” (1:4); he goes on to mention “joy in faith” (1:25) and wants the Philippians to “make my joy complete” by having the same intent and mind (2:2).  “Joy” and “Rejoicing” is a central concept for Paul in this letter.

Even in Lent, it should be easy for us to rejoice. Real and lasting joy comes from the confidence that, no matter what happens, we are inseparably connected to God.  We belong. We are enough. We are loved. A few years before penning his Letter to the Philippians, he wrote to the congregations in Rome: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). During Lent, we are shifting our focus from ourselves to our relationship with Christ.  The focus on Christ, however, has immediate ramifications for the here and now. One of them is Joy.

Prayer: O Christ, be my help. O Christ, be my hope. O Christ, be our joy. 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].

 

Thursday February 15 2018

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Scripture: Philippians 3:12-21

Key verse: (12) “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Reflection: “When were you saved?”  That was the question my friend asked.  We were in college together.  He’s a wonderful human being and a committed man of faith.  Out of love for me he posed that question, concerned for my salvation.  “When were you saved?” he asked.  “2,000 years ago,” I answered.  My response reflected my Reformed theology of salvation, as we believe we are saved by what God accomplished in Christ, not by our own belief  in that truth.  “And by the grace of God, I might be saved today,” I added.

This understanding of salvation is informed by Paul.  At the heart of Paul’s theology is the concept of “the already, but not yet.”  One of the ways he employs this theology is through the grammar of his verbs.  Paul often uses the “perfect tense” when speaking of salvation.  The perfect tense is used to communicate an action that has been completed in the past yet has results occurring in the present.  Paul often employs the perfect tense in combination with the future tense when speaking of the goals of faith: justification, sanctification, knowing Christ, becoming like him in his death, knowing his resurrection, and ultimately salvation. He’s been talking about these things earlier in chapter 3, and today’s passage moves to the ethic born of this perspective of faith.

The story is told of a prisoner of war camp in Germany in World War II that illustrates this truth.  American and British soldiers were both held captive in this prison, but they were not permitted to speak with one another.  The only people who could talk to each other were the Chaplains.  They both happened to be Irish, and they both spoke Gaelic.  While many Germans could understand English, they could not comprehend Gaelic.  It just so happened that the British had a radio over which they were receiving news of the war.  As news came in, the British Chaplain would communicate it to the American in Gaelic.  So as news of D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge, and the progress of the allies toward Germany came in, the news would spread throughout the camp through the Chaplains.  They knew the war was won, though there were still battles to fight.  Victory was already attained, but it had not yet come to them.  This changed the way they lived.  Their will to live improved.  The burden of their work lightened. Their hope for liberation in the future eased the despair of the present conditions they endured.  Then one morning, they woke up and their captors were gone.  Later that day, allied troops arrived to set them free.

The life of faith is lived within the already, but the not-yet.  This Lenten Season, as we make our way toward the cross, and ultimately to the joy of resurrection, may we press on to obtain what has already been won, but not yet fully achieved.

Prayer: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is even now 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].