Thursday April 22 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 13-17

Key verses: (14:3-4a) “When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon.”

Reflection: It is a moment ingrained in my mind.  The year was 1985.  The place was Legion Field, Birmingham, AL.  Van Tiffin had just kicked a 52-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the Iron Bowl to beat Auburn, 25-23, snatching victory from what moments earlier seemed the certain jaws of defeat for the Tide. As an Auburn sophomore, I was devastated.  Then their “Million Dollar Band” played that infernal song, “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer,” and their fans taunted us singing, “Hey Auburn, Hey Auburn, we just beat the he(double-toothpicks) outta you!”  I hated that song.  They must have sung it 100 times that night.  Uggh.  Twenty-five years later, in 2010, after an unlikely 24-point comeback in Tuscaloosa, Auburn defeated Alabama, 28-27.  In Bryant Denny stadium that early evening, the Auburn band turned the tide, and the visitors’ section changed the lyrics, replacing “Auburn” with “Alabama,” singing that taunting song right in the midst of the Auburn’s Babylon.  Here’s a video if you’d like to see it : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g05QG_p1U1E

That’s what came to mind when I read the oracle against Babylon in Isaiah 14.  Isaiah writes, “You will take up this taunt against Babylon.”  That’s what 2010 felt like to me.  “How the oppressor has ceased!  How his insolence has ceased!”  However, such taunts, such longings for vengeance do not emerge from our best instincts, do they?  Certainly they do not come from what is holy.  If our world were ruled by the mentality of such taunts, we would only have endless cycles of vengeance.  Our ultimate destiny would surely be destruction.  As our Lord said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” (Mt. 26:52)  Yet here is Isaiah’s invitation to take up the taunt in response to his oracle of judgment against the hated Babylonians, an oracle tucked amid other oracles against the nations, against Assyria, Philistia, Moab and Egypt.   What are we to make of this?

As is true of all scripture, it must be understood in its larger context.  These oracles and this taunt are not ends, in and of themselves.  They are part of a bigger picture.  While they reflect the judgment of God upon the powers of the world, that judgment is part of the redemption of creation.  “The whole earth is at rest and quiet,” in v. 7a. The cedars of Lebanon are rejoicing because the powerful no longer chop them down to erect their mighty houses. This is but part of a process that will involve judgment not only upon Israel’s enemies, but also upon Israel itself.  That judgment is a necessary part of redemption, for God’s judgment always grows from God’s love.  The goal of all this judgment is a new creation that calls forth a new song to be sung in Isaiah 42. It’s the new creation where lions and lambs lie down together (Isaiah 11, 65), where swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2).  That’s God’s big picture in Isaiah. 

Amid the tensions and taunts of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, I’ve glimpsed that big picture. Less than five months after the 2010 Iron Bowl, on April 27, 2011, a terrible tornado devastated Tuscaloosa, killing 41 people.  It was a horrible tragedy.  In response, Auburn and Alabama students came together to build Habitat Homes and to repair homes seriously damaged by that tornado.  In March of 2019, tornados hit Auburn, killing 23 and leaving hundreds homeless.  Alabama students came east in the wake of that disaster to help rebuild people’s lives in Auburn.  It was a glimpse of the peaceable kingdom that is God’s vision for the world’s tomorrows.  Life’s ultimate destiny is not defined by the temporary taunts of victors born of a particular moment, but rather by the redemption of all that is the destiny of creation. 

Prayer: “Amid life’s temptations to taunt, open our eyes to the vision of your big picture, O God, and open our hearts to respond in faith that the world might know the power of your redemption.  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 April 21 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 9-12

Key verse: (11:6) “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

Reflection: I love this paining by John August Swanson titled “Peaceable Kingdom” and inspired by Isaiah 11:1-9. The image is full of animals that aren’t just often at odds with each other, but who naturally find their existence through the destruction of one another through consumption. In the world as we know it the lion and the goat are in relation to one another as predator and prey. However, in this image and in Isaiah’s passage the lion and the fatling (an animal plumped for consumption) lie down together in peace. I love both the literary and artistic imagery of this peace described by Isaiah, for it is all encompassing, not just surface level peace.

At the time when Isaiah spoke these words, Israel (specifically the southern kingdom of Judah) was rife with conflict with surrounding nations and also within its borders among its own people. Conflict identified the people as a whole, inside to out, from interpersonal to international. In Isaiah 9 we read of the nations at war with Judah and then in chapter 10 we read the specifics of the injustice done to its own people. Like the animals listed in 11:6-8, the people were identified by their hostility toward and destruction of one another.

And yet, Isaiah prophecies for a time of peace. True peace. God’s peace. This peace is not just a superficial cessation of violence, but it transforms the very nature of relationships between opposing forces. Predator and prey have to find a new way of identify themselves and relating to each other. What a transformation! What a promise!

Take a look at the picture again. Do you notice how all of the animals seem to be looking out of the picture and staring at you? When I meditate on this picture I see the animals as a witness of peace while also calling us to accountability and action. Their staring eyes seem to be watching to see how we respond. Right in the middle of the picture is the peacock, a historic symbol of the resurrection, reminding us that while we await Christ’s coming to fulfill this kingdom, we can by God’s grace begin living into this peaceable kingdom now. In these 50 days of Easter reflect upon the relationships of our lives, of our city, of our nation and the nations of the world. What relationships do you find yourself in that are adversarial by nature? How might God be calling us to a transformed way of identifying ourselves and relating to one another?

Prayer: Gracious God, we give you thanks that you can imagine this world in a new and peaceable way. By your love guide us in this way that we may be transformed and be lead in peace. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[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 April 20 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 6

Key verse: (13)
 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
    it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
    whose stump remains standing
    when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

Reflection: Our text for today includes Isaiah’s call story. Isaiah’s call from God offers a window into what his ministry will be like – Isaiah will speak God’s words and yet the people will not turn from their ways. God speaks of dulled minds and destruction of the people, and yet, Isaiah’s message to the people becomes one of both judgment and salvation. The words we read for today are meant more to prepare Isaiah for his ministry than to give the message that Isaiah will be passing on to God’s people, a helpful reminder when we these read words full of great destruction.

God tells Isaiah that his ministry will continue until cities are torn down and the land is left desolate. This is not the hopeful message that we want to hear from a prophet. And yet, the message ends with a glimmer of hope. “The holy seed is its stump.” In the midst of the sinful and corrupt human ways, there lives a holy seed, planted by God at our beginning. God continues to send messages and messengers (like Isaiah) to God’s people to break into their hearts, turning them from the ways of sin to a path of love. This love can be found within each of us, if we just take the time to weed through to the stump, the holy seed.

Are there parts of your life that need to be broken through? Have you turned too deeply to the ways of the world? Do you need a messenger to remind you of who you are at your core? God continues to break into our world, dwelling among us, shining light on our darkened souls. May we hear the messages of hope that are before us, and may we live into the love of the holy seed that dwells within us.

Prayer: Holy God, you continue to send us prophets who call us to turn from the ways of sin and corruption to your great love. Help us to listen to these words, that they might move and transform us. Reveal to us the Holy Seed that lies within us that we might use it to do your work in the world. Amen.

Author: Savannah Demuynck

[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 April 19 2021

Scripture: Isaiah 1-4

Key verses: (1: 16-19a)

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

    remove the evil of your doings

    from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

    learn to do good;

seek justice,

    rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

    plead for the widow.

 Come now, let us argue it out,

    says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

    they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,

    they shall become like wool.

 If you are willing and obedient, . . .”

Reflection: The beginning of the book of Isaiah starts with poetry that is described as a vision of Isaiah. The call of the prophet Isaiah doesn’t happen until Chapter Six, but the entire book is attributed to him. God is speaking to God’s people and imploring them to return to faith. These beginning chapters are addressed to the remnant of a defeated people in Judah after the enormous devastation done by the Assyrian army led by Sennacherib. The cause of this destruction was not merely political, but spiritual.  The people had turned away from God.  Time and again they sinned.  This sin went against everything that God had called them to do and be as children of God.  They practiced evil in all of it forms and turned away from all who needed justice:  the orphan, the widow and anyone who was oppressed.  They had set up worship places for other gods and fell into self-serving practices that were contrary to the law and ordinances that God had given them so that they might experience life. In this first chapter, the LORD is disgusted with their meaningless sacrifices and festivals.  What the LORD really wanted was repentance and a change of heart.  Come let us argue it out (or reason together).  Let’s talk, says the LORD.  God was so willing to forgive, if only they were willing to turn their lives around.    

A lot of people don’t like to read the books of the prophets because there is so much destruction and God is so angry.  But, what I find in these scripture passages is a loving God who is continually calling out to us and warning us about our choices and actions just like God did centuries ago. God wants us to give our full hearts and lives to God. God wants us to be all in, fully committed to living lives of love, acceptance, forgiveness and justice.  We are to be God’s agents in the world showing our faith to others through our actions. Most of us think we are pretty good people and that none of what we find in Isaiah applies to us.  But, I’m not so sure.  We are all capable of evil or condoning evil. It’s easy to fall away from God. It’s easy to compartmentalize our faith and separate it from our everyday lives.  Are we continually learning to do good, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow?  Are we listening to God and applying what scripture teaches us in our lives? God invites us to return before some self-destructive behavior destroys us.  Our lives might not be as dramatic as life was in Judah in 701 BCE.  There is no army threatening our existence (at least not right now), but in what ways are we worshipping other gods that threaten to destroy us?  Reflect on your life today, turn toward God and experience the great love God has for you.

Prayer:  Lord, help us to find you in the midst of all that pulls us away from you. May we cultivate clean hearts, transformed by you and your living presence.  May we hear your word and embrace your love for us.  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].     

Friday April 16 2021

Scripture: 2 Kings 18 – 19

Key verse: (19:1) “When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord.”

Reflection: I went to seminary with a guy who wore sackcloth.  As you can imagine, not the usual for walking the streets of Princeton nor the easiest for carrying a backpack loaded with folders and theology books.

As crazy as it seems, Shane was a living witness.  Someone willing to set aside societal conventions and model a prayer for something wholly otherwise, and actually really uncomfortable.

Hezekiah went to the temple to pray, dressing to remind himself of his humanity before the holy God.  In his prayer he petitioned, “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.”  Sure enough, God heard his prayer and spared Jerusalem.

As a young seminarian, I didn’t take Shane seriously enough.  In fact, I’m embarrassed I ridiculed his intentions.  What I know now is the scratchiness of that sackcloth was more bearable to Shane than the brokenness of our world.  Shane wore sackcloth because his heart was barbed and bruised by the injustice of inner city Philly; his garb was the starting point of a daily prayer “You alone are God over all the kingdoms of this earth.”  Shane eventually left seminary and started The Simple Way an urban ministry in Philadelphia with the hope for creating a different kind of kin-dom on this earth.

Prayer: God of grace and truth,
We feel hope on the horizon;
and yet we still feel hesitant.
We kindle an Easter faith;
Knowing that flesh is God’s yes.
As risky as the incarnation is;
We give thanks for Christ our Savior
And our Creator God who navigate
The complexities of human life and foster resilience when we struggle.
Lord, hear our prayers today – the prayers
We can share, and all that goes unspoken.
Amen.

Author: Lisa Hickman

[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 April 15 2021

Scripture: 2 Kings 17:24-41

Key verse: (17:33) So they worshiped the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from whom they had been carried away.

Reflection: After the nation of Israel fell to the Assyrians, the king of Assyria brought people from other conquered places to dwell in the land. Those foreigners didn’t worship the LORD of Israel and experienced horrible consequences (eaten by lions!) The king brought in an Israelite priest to teach them how to worship the LORD thinking that would protect them from the anger of the LORD. But the people still made statues of their own gods and shrines for their worship.

In a sense they tried to weave the worship of the LORD in with their worship of other gods. They added the LORD into the mix rather than replacing their old gods with the LORD. The LORD was one among many, rather than the LORD alone.

For those of us raised in faith, we might struggle to identify a time when we were “strangers” moving into the land of faith. We might not be able to distinguish between a time before we had a relationship with God and a time after we knew God’s love. Perhaps that’s all the more reason we are called to examine our faith carefully. Have we just woven our faith in God into our lives as a nice addition or have we made God central in our lives? Have we continued worshiping other gods (success, security, approval, money, pleasure…?) while claiming to worship the LORD?

The call to live as God’s people is a radical and exclusionary call. We cannot worship other gods and claim to worship the LORD we know in Jesus Christ. We will fail. We will be imperfect. Yet the call remains clear. Put aside all else and worship the LORD alone.

Prayer: Dear God, you know how I am pulled in many different directions and I have competing loyalties. Forgive me. Give me clarity to see the ways that I am distracted from you. Give me courage to put aside other priorities to make you my Lord. In Christ 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].

Wednesday April 14 2021

Scripture: 2 Kings 12-14

Key verse: (14:4) But the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. 

Reflection: The king did what was right in the sight of the lord, or at least he tried. We will read more about his life and see that he didn’t really know what it meant to be faithful to God.  He left the high places, so people continued to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings. They were remnants of an old ancestral worship which went back to the time of the judges. It will be several kings down the road until one makes a change.

The repetitiveness of this cannot be overlooked in 2 Kings. We have read this over and over again. They mess up again and again. It may be an invitation to open our own eyes to the high places in our own lives that we keep in our lives as if we are not unfaithful. Practices and rituals that are part of our lives that go against what it means to follow Jesus are probably part of our everyday life.  I know that I have some high places in my life that need to be torn down from the way I spend money to the routines of my larger family.

Our faith is woven into every part of our life. We do not follow Christ only on Sunday or when it is easy. We follow Christ because we believe in the Kingdom of God, in the Good News of Easter for all of God’s children. Following God means kingdom living and loving at home, at work, with neighbors and even on vacation. Let’s take a look at some of our high places this week and start taking them down.

Prayer: God, walk with us into every second of the day as we follow your son, Jesus. May we be faithful, loving, just and merciful to all of your children. 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].

Tuesday April 13 2021

Scripture: 2 Kings 8-11

Key verses: (9:1-3) Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-Gilead.  When you arrive, look there for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi; go in and get him to leave his companions, and take him into an inner chamber.  Then take the flask of oil, pour it on his head, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee; do not linger.”

Reflection:  We Presbyterians don’t often talk about the judgment of God.  We prefer to lift up God’s sovereign grace embodied in Christ.  There was a time when Presbyterians put a greater emphasis on judgment.  That was in the 17th and 18th century when Reformed Christians participated in events like the Salem Witch trials.  Hopefully we learned the difference between human judgment and God’s judgment.  Human judgment is often tainted by its own sin.  God’s judgment is not.  To be sure, God is just. 

Today’s section contains God’s final judgment against the house of Omri, of which Ahab was one of the worst kings.  His story begins back in 1 Kings 16.  He marries Jezebel and the two of them represent one of the most corrupt chapters in Israel’s sordid history.  To understand today’s reading, we must remember the incident with Naboth’s vineyard, detailed in 1 Kings 21.  In that chapter, Jezebel concocts a terrible scheme to kill a farmer named, Naboth, so that Ahab can steal his vineyard.  But God was paying attention.  Through the prophet Elijah, God pronounced judgment upon Ahab and his house.  That judgment came upon Ahab himself in 1 Kings 22, when he was slayed in battle at Ramoth-Gilead. A generation later, at that very same place, Ramoth-Gilead, a representative of Elisha, Elijah’s successor, anoints Jehu to succeed Ahab’s son, Joram.  Through Jehu, God fulfills the pronounced judgment upon Ahab’s house.  In fact, Joram’s body winds up “on the plot of ground belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite.” (2 Kings 9:25) Indeed, the arch of history is long, but it bends toward justice. 

Where are the Ahabs and the Jezebels and the Jorams of our day?  Naming them is an act of judgment in and of itself.  God alone knows who they truly are.  So often in the world, it seems the unjust prevail.  I would imagine Naboth’s family felt that way.  The good news to be found in today’s reading is that amid the injustices of our world, God notices.  God notices the Naboths of our world, and ultimately, God acts to redeem them.

Ultimately, as Christians we believe in Christ God acts not only to redeem the Naboths of the world, but to redeem us all. 

Prayer: Amid a world filled with Jorams, Jehus and Jezebels, Ahabs and Naboths, give us eyes to see with your vision, O God, and wisdom to walk in your ways that your justice might prevail, and your 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].

Monday April 12 2021

Scripture: 2 Kings 4-7

Key verses: (5:2-3) “Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’”

Reflection: The healing of Naaman is one of my favorite passages in all of the Bible. It has it all, international intrigue, an underdog story, and a miraculous healing. As we are moving from the end of 1 Kings to the first few chapters of 2 Kings we get these memorable stories of the prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha. Each of these stories is chalked full of imagery and faithful actions.

In our passage for today I’m intrigued most by the sequence of events that took place for Naaman’s healing to occur. Let me remind you that Naaman who has leprosy is the king of Aram, not an Israelite. After the Arameans raided Israel, they took home captive a girl who served Naaman’s wife. Through a holy game of telephone, from the captive Israelite girl to Naaman’s wife to Naaman, the news spread that the prophet in Samaria could heal Naaman of his leprosy. So many questions here! Why did the Israelite girl desire to tell Naaman how to become healed? I think of myself in that situation and how bitter I would have been, perhaps relishing in the illness of the man whose army took me captive. Or perhaps on a better day I would have at least tried to bargain for my freedom with news of how to become healed. Maybe that is where this Israelite girl is coming from too, but the text doesn’t say. Instead it seems as though she freely offers this information and help. Reading this story, I can’t help but see inexhaustible compassion, compassion that looks past self-interest and truly desires healing and wholeness for all, even an enemy.

I love that the story of a foreign king being healed of leprosy because of the intel of a slave girl is in our scripture. Pause and reflect about what that says about who God is … and who God calls us to be …

May we never lose sight of the sovereignty of God who rules over all nations and at the same time cares intimately and deeply for each and every one of us across the whole wide world. And may we dare to respond in loving compassion for everyone we encounter, friend or foe, enemy or neighbor, citizen or alien, near or far.

Prayer: Holy God, we praise you for the many ways you work in our lives and in the world. By your Spirit soften our hearts that we may love others with the same self-giving compassion which you show to us. Through Christ we pray. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[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 April 9 2021

Scripture: 1 Kings 17:8-16

Key verse: (14) For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 

Reflection: In our text for today, we meet the prophet Elijah. This is the first encounter with Elijah in the text and he goes on to be an important prophet in the story of God’s people. God instructs Elijah to enter into the house of the widow, Zarephath, who would provide food and shelter for him. Upon first meeting, Elijah asks Zarephath to bring him food and water. Zarephath boldly responds that she doesn’t have enough. Zarephath, out of fear of not being able to provide for her child, is only about to see the scarcity that surrounds her. She only has a small jar of meal and a few drops of oil in a jug. Elijah, a man with divine favor, sees the abundance that God provides. He responds the meal will not be emptied and the oil will not fail. How can this be true?

I love this story. Elijah has such faith in God that he trusts in the ways that God will provide and Zarephath finds it in her heart to also have faith but not before asking the hard questions. She doesn’t have blind faith but is willing to engage with Elijah enough to have her perspective transformed.

This story also has things to teach us about what God’s providence might look like. Elijah tells Zarephath that as long as there is no rain they will not go hungry. He doesn’t promise that the jar and jug will be full but rather that they won’t be empty. God’s abundance isn’t about a plethora of things but about enough to go around, sustenance through daily bread.

I wonder what we miss when we are unwilling to ask questions, to go deeper, to have our eyes transformed to the ways of God. How can we trust in the Elijah’s we encounter when we think we have scarcity but instead are full of abundance? May our eyes be transformed that we might join with God’s vision of abundance in the midst of a world that focuses on scarcity.

Prayer: God of abundance, you continue to provide for us with daily bread and yet, we are unable and unwilling to see your gifts through a spirit of generosity. Transform our eyes, our hearts and our minds to join with your Spirit of overflowing love. Amen.

Author: Savannah Demuynck

[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].