Tuesday December 11 2018

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Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Key verses: (12-19) 12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit.

Reflection: In the letter to the church at Thessalonica, we read some of the apostle Paul’s earliest instructions for believers. He writes to a group of faithful followers of Jesus, encouraging them in their life together. It’s an active kind of faith to which he calls them. Not cerebral or solitary. The verbs in this passage require action in community. The faithful are called to respect, esteem, admonish, encourage, help, be patient, do good, rejoice, pray, give thanks.

What if we had these kinds of verbs in mind every time we stepped onto our church grounds and entered our buildings? What if we recalled them and practiced them in our interactions with one another outside the buildings — in the community, over the phone, by email or online? What if we remembered and lived them out in our lives with everyone whom we encountered? The words and actions that show who we are might look different.

What will you do today? Whom will you meet or greet? How will you follow the call to live as God’s beloved? Perhaps we can all encourage each other by our words and our lives to live in the kind of community Paul envisions.

Prayer: Lord, help me not quench your Spirit. Help me love my sisters and brothers in faith. Teach me to give thanks in all circumstances, and do good to all. 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].

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Monday December 10 2018

Monday

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Key verses: (5-6) “. . . for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; . . .”

Reflection: One day, Jesus will come again.  As we approach Christmas, Advent invites us to think about the birth of Jesus, but also to think about the time when the Messiah will return.  In the early decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, followers of Jesus lived with the expectation that He would return at any time.  Believers were charged to be ready, because no one knew when that time would be.  They were invited to live their lives in expectation worthy of the gospel.  This got more difficult as more time passed.  Generations passed away.  The original Apostles and disciples were gone and still Jesus hadn’t returned.  Given our human nature, the Thessalonians needed a reminder of the original mission, and, so do we. It’s hard to wait, but as we wait, we are called to watch and pay attention to our own lives and what is happening around us.  The early church believed that there were signs in the world around them pointing to Jesus’ return.  Even today, some people sees the fires, earthquakes and floods as signs of something new about to be born.  Yet, we are told we won’t know.  It will be a surprise.  So, we need to continue to work, to live in the light and not fall prey to living in darkness.  If Advent is a time to renew our commitment to Christ, let it also be a time to remember that one day Jesus will come again.  In the meantime, let us live as children of the light showing his love, acceptance, forgiveness and justice to others.

Prayer: Loving Messiah, one day you will return and all will be made right.  The world as we know it will change.  Help us to wait and watch with great expectancy as we live out your love in our lives by serving you.  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].

Friday December 7 2018

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Scripture: Luke 20:41-21:4

Key verses: (21:3-4) He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Reflection: December is “shopping season” in our world.  It’s hard to find a parking space at the mall.  Free shipping with our online shopping can be a great surprise; but do I need to pay for next-day delivery? Children sit on Santa’s lap to share a long list of “wants.” Commercials run on the TV for new toys, and great clothes, and cars (how do they get those huge bows tied on the cars?). It can be difficult to extricate ourselves from the societal pressure to focus on shopping and gifts this month.

We find ourselves sitting with Jesus in the temple, watching people put their gifts into the temple treasury box. A poor widow put in two small copper coins and Jesus points to her gifts as a challenge for faithful living. Imagine if this happened in our church world.  The temple scene is kind of like Christmas morning as each person opens gifts from under the tree. Jesus could see each gift and each giver. Imagine Jesus sitting in the front of the church as people come up with their gifts. What does he see? What does he conclude about us? What thoughts will he share with the gathered congregation?

This weekend you might need to go to the mall or you might place an online order. I encourage you to stop, reflect and ask yourself what Jesus might say to you about your gift giving. Jesus might shift you toward a different kind of giving, toward a generosity that isn’t based on expectation or on reciprocity. Jesus might shift you toward giving to those in need rather than giving to satisfy the list of wants. Jesus might shift your priorities so that you focus on him and live in his way.

Prayer: O God, everything I have belongs to you. Teach me to be a steward of what I have so that I honor you with my spending, my saving and my giving. Shift me toward generosity and charity and justice. Help me to follow Christ. In Jesus’ name 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].

Thursday December 6 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 126

Key verses: (5-6) “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”

Reflection: One of the most remarkable people I have ever read about is a woman named Maggy Barankitse, who is the founder and leader of an organization called Maison Shalom.  Following the genocide in her home country of Burundi, Maggy sought a way to work for the welfare of children growing up in a community ravaged by violence and war.  And so, she established an orphanage and a school.  In one interview, though, Maggy shared that her vision was much bigger than that: she wanted the children not only to survive and have their basic needs met, but to flourish, which meant to her that they had to be given the opportunity to experience joy.  So, with help, Maggy had a swimming pool dug into what were formerly killing fields, so that, in her words, the children could splash in the waters of baptism in a place that was once only a place of death and destruction.

Hope after pain.  I can’t think of a more perfect way to describe what that might look like than to think about what Maggy’s pool did for the children in her care.  It was an act of creative love that communicated her hope for them, which is that they wouldn’t only be defined by the tragedies they’d experienced.  A hope that their lives might still be rich, if not without deep pain.  That they might have access to joy.

This is the prayer of the psalmist, and the prayer we must pray for all of God’s children who have experienced tragedy, loss, or in the case of the psalm, exile.  In the face of inexplicable suffering, we who follow Christ cling to the hope of joy for those who find themselves in seasons where they only have sorrow to offer.  We can do this in many ways.  We can pray.  We can listen.  We can cry.  We can feed.  We can remember difficult anniversaries and check in with those whose hearts are heavy. We can light candles.  In Advent, we can open our hearts to the one in whom “the hopes and fears of all the years” meet, and are redeemed.

Pay attention when we light the Hope candle this year: for whom, specifically, might you pray?  For whom, specifically, might you hold out hope in a tangible way?

Prayer: Dear God, in the midst of great sorrow, it is difficult to hold onto hope. Strengthen us to be creative in loving one another in ways that do not erase the deep pains of our lives, but acknowledge and honor them. 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].

Wednesday December 5 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 17

Key verses: (1, 6, 7, 13, 15)

1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry;

give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.

6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;

incline your ear to me, hear my words.

7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,

O savior of those who seek refuge

from their adversaries at your right hand.

13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, overthrow them!

By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;

when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

Reflection: “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” I still remember the classic lines performed on stage when I saw my first play in New York as a high-schooler: “The Who’s Tommy.” This story from “The Who,” included much of the music from the 70’s rock band. I remember distinctly loving the song, “See me, feel me, listening to you,” and singing along during the reprise in the final act. Decades later, the song still resonates with me as a plea to be seen, heard, and healed.

The Psalmist requests to be heard from God. After protest from the persecuted, the Psalmist asks again for God to hear the prayer and for refuge from our savior. The petition strengthens towards the end with, “Rise up, O Lord,” and finishes with confidence in God’s righteous judgement. There is foreshadowing in the Psalm of communion with God as stated in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Wanting to be seen and heard is a basic human need. Gratefully, God is ready to see and hear us and we can have confidence in God’s everlasting love.

Prayer: O God, we want to be seen and heard. We persecute and hurt others, and seek refuge from our adversaries at your hand. Continue to see us, and hear us, and love us, O God, even in our sinfulness. For we are convinced that nothing, nothing, will be able to separate us from your love. Amen.

Author: Amy Speas

[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 December 4 2018

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Scripture: Luke 20:9-18

Key verses: (9-13) He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. 10 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. 12 And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’

Reflection: This seems to be a strange scripture for advent. We usually have the beautiful passages of Isaiah of waiting and watching.  We have stories of Elizabeth and Mary and the anticipation of babies. This is the parable I like the least, definitely the one that makes me the most uncomfortable. Jesus used parables to teach but also to push people out of their comfort zone. Parables are meant to cause us to see our lives differently. Jesus used these parables to reveal that the Kingdom of God was going to bring about change.  Just like traditional stories, parables stick in our minds and even our hearts guiding us if we are listening.

Advent is a time of watching and waiting, preparing for God’s son to come and change lives. Maybe this scripture invites us to put ourselves in the place of the tenants, as the owner of the vineyard sends his beloved son. What will be our response? Will we continue as if the owner is not even part of this world or will we allow the son to enter and bring about some change?

Prayer:
God, we want to make room for you…
we want our lives to be changed by your advent.
So speak to us in our busy-ness and our quietness…
our uneven-ness and our level-ness…
our roughness and our smoothness…
so your glory might be revealed to us.
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].

 

Monday December 3 2018

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Scripture: Luke 20:1-8

Key verse: (2) “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things?”

Reflection: What are authorities in your life?  Growing up, my parents and teachers were authorities for me.  In my corporate career, managers at work were authorities in my life.  In the world of the church, Sessions and Presbyteries have been institutional authorities in ministry. Certainly the institutions of society traditionally carried authority; the law, the constitution, civic leaders entrusted with authority by these institutions, like police, judges, elected officials.  The press used to be a trusted authority to report the facts about events. There was a time when even ministers carried some authority in society and the church.

Increasingly our society is questioning traditional authority. By what authority does the press report?  If we don’t like it, it’s fake news.  By what authority do police enforce laws?  What about the incidents of mistakes made by police that often carry tragic consequences?  This undermines their authority.  Judges are now only valued if their decisions support our political ideologies.  Elected officials are viewed with tremendous skepticism.  If a minister says something we don’t like, that we just find a different minister.  Where is the seat of authority in our world?

Increasingly, it is within ourselves.  Today, each person is their own authority.  Individuals decide what is authoritative for them.  If something seems truthful to us, if it supports our convictions and perspectives, then it is authoritative.  If not, then it is not.  Truth be told, in some ways this has always been the case. In today’s reading from Luke, recognized authorities of Jesus’ day ask him by what authority he is proclaiming the kingdom of God and its grace and justice.  Whenever Jesus is challenged by questions of his authority he responds by asking another question.  In this case, he asks about the authority of John’s baptism.  The authorities are stumped.  In that way, Jesus demonstrates something of his authority.  They recognize that their worldly authority is not adequate to challenge Jesus’ authority.

Ultimately, authority is about us, about who we recognize as our authorities.  As Christians, our ultimate allegiance is to Christ.  He is Lord of all.  His authority is without question.  Whether or not we recognize that authority is the ultimate question of discipleship.

Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  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].