Tuesday November 19 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 17:14-21

Key verses: (20-21) He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Reflection: Our Confirmation class has the opportunity to hear from each of our clergy. After they share their faith journey and teach, the 8th graders can ask questions.  This group of youth are asking more and more questions each week. (Good luck to our last pastor leading them, Ben Brannan, they will have a whole lot for you!) One question they had for Millie Snyder stuck with me this week. Does prayer change God’s mind?

I love exploring the questions and wondering what they are really asking. I think this was a question of faith. Do we need faith if God is powerful and loving? Do we need prayer?

Jesus encourages us to practice our faith. Our faith is a seed that grows with regular faith practices. Worship. Prayer. Bible study. Daily devotions.  Faith is not magic. Faith is the participation in the work of God.

In this passage, the disciples had just returned from the mountaintop transfiguration. They are met with a father bringing his epileptic son to be healed but the disciples could not heal him. Jesus is angry but does not leave them in their passive, ineffective faith. Jesus challenge them to find that mustard-seed faith and continue to pray.

Let us do the same.  I don’t think we can ever know if it changes God’s mind, but as Rev. Millie told the confirmation class, it certainly changes us.

Prayer: O Lord, Hear my prayer.

(May our prayers continue throughout the day)

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 November 18 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 17:1-13

Key verse: (2) “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.”

Reflection: One of my favorite movies is “Big Fish.” It’s a Tim Burton film — so it’s an acquired taste, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace.  Filled with echoes of Homer’s Odyssey and James Joyce’s Ulysses, not to mention numerous Biblical stories, it’s about the power of story to shape and define our lives. The first story in the film is about Edward’s encounter with a witch who lives in a swamp outside of his hometown of Ashton, Alabama.  Legend has it that those who gaze into the witch’s eye will see the way they die.  Edward musters up his courage and strides to the front door of the witch’s home. The door swings open to reveal the witch, who stands there with a patch over her right eye.  “Mam,” begins the young Edward, “my name is Edward Bloom and there are some folks who’d like to see your eye.”  He leads the witch out for his friends to gaze into the magic eye.  Young Edward goes last.  Looking into the camera as if it is the eye, he says, “Oh, so that’s how I’ll die.” Armed with the knowledge of how his own story ends, Edward takes on the world with reckless abandon.  He saves his hometown from a giant by negotiating with him to join the circus.  He becomes a hero in the Korean War.  He even tames a savage werewolf.  He was able to do all these things because he knew how his story ended, so he wasn’t afraid of a giant or a war or a werewolf, because he knew that’s not the way he died.  That’s not the way his story ended.  That glimpse of the end at the beginning of his own story gave him courage to live his life to the fullest.

The transfiguration of Jesus is an other-worldly story.  It provides Peter, James and John a glimpse of the end of Jesus’ story in the middle of the gospel.  They see for a moment the glorified Christ talking with Moses and Elijah, who represent the law and the prophets.  As Jesus has mentioned, he embodies the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  His face shines “like the sun” and his garments are “white as light.” If we turn to Revelation 1, we see there the glorified Christ whose eyes “shine like fire” and whose head and hair are “white as wool, white as snow.” Revelation concludes with God’s ultimate victory, the transformation of creation into the kingdom of God.  God wins!  That’s the end of the story. These apostles are given a glimpse of the end in the middle.  It is intended to sustain them as they head to Jerusalem.  There they will witness their Lord be betrayed, beaten, tortured, and crucified.  But given this glimpse of the glorified Christ, they know that the cross is not the end of the story — or at least they should!

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is another favorite film of mine.  It’s a lot easier to love than “Big Fish” — who doesn’t love Dev Patel?  His character utters a wonderful line in the film:  “Everything will be alright in the end.  If it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.”  That’s true for all of us.  The Transfiguration offers us all a glimpse of the end in the middle.  May it give us confidence for the journey ahead, the journey toward that day when God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will be done on earth as it is even now in heaven.

Prayer: Your word teaches us that in the end everything will be alright.  Your way of love and grace and truth will ultimately prevail.  Your kingdom will come and your will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  So if things are not alright in our lives today, help us trust in your sustaining presence.  Give us a glimpse of your tomorrow to sustain us through today, and give us courage for tomorrow.  In the powerful name of Jesus we pray.  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].

 

Friday November 15 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20

Key verse: (15)“But who do you say that I am?”

Reflection: Do you ever find it is really easy to talk about what other people think? I find that I always have an opinion about what someone else has done, or someone else’s thoughts. We have analysts for everything from politics to culture to sports, people who take time dissecting what other people do or say or don’t do or don’t say.

In our reading for today Jesus asks what has been said about him, what the chatter on the street is, what the analysts are saying. The disciples had a lot to say, there was historical conjecture that Jesus was Elijah. There were conspiracies that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Herod thought this in Matthew 14:1-2). I can only imagine the stories that were told about who Jesus was and what he was doing. But then Jesus asks a much harder, a much more personal question, “Who do you say that I am.” This question is personal. The fun and safety of analyzing from afar is gone, replaced by personal claims on one’s own life.

Do you find yourself citing with ease who other people say that Jesus is? Are you quick to repeat the historical facts, the literary quotes, the actions from the past? But who do you say that Jesus is? How has Jesus touched and claimed your life? In what ways have you noticed Jesus’ moving and call upon your life? Take time and say it out loud, write it down, tell someone else, who do you say that Jesus is?

Prayer: Loving God, we give you thanks for the many ways in which you have moved through the prophets and through those who have come before us, for their witness in our faith. Open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, to the moving of Christ by your Spirit in our lives this day. 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].

Thursday November 14 2019

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Scripture: Revelation 19:1-10

Key verse: (9) And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Reflection: Everyone wants to look their very best on their wedding day. It is a day to get pampered, get all dressed up, look your best, and be ready to commit your life and enter into a covenant. Marriage is a gift of God. My wedding day was not so long ago (actually 69 days ago today), and I wanted to look my very best for my bride. In the book of Ephesians, Paul wrote about a wedding day when the church will be presented to Christ as his bride, who is “without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind” (Ephesians 5:27). There is a want to look good in the presence of the Lord — putting on our Sunday best if you will. Here in Revelation, the church is also described as Christ’s bride: “to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” (v.8).

What happens after the wedding ceremony counts as well. Verse 8 continues, “for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” We are not saved by our works; we are saved through faith. But faith apart from works is dead. Much like the life of faith, marriage is something that must be worked on daily. It takes humility, forgiveness, patience, and endurance. Sadly, there are some marriages that do not work out and do not survive the rigors of the years. Some separations or divorces make the individuals whole again, and yet there are other times guilt, regret, and shame are the only emotions felt.

As Christians, there is a wedding feast we all can look forward to. A wedding feast we are all invited to, when we will be clothed in linens of grace and mercy. This is the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” This is a promised banquet of forgiveness and deliverance as Christ takes the church as his bride. It will be a time of great joy and jubilation, of everlasting love and eternal happiness. We may not get everything right here on earth, but there will be a wonderful event when we are at last reunited with Jesus our Christ, the risen Lord.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the invitation to your wedding feast. May our hearts be open to your love, so that when we, the church, your bride, are reunited with you, we may joyfully celebrate the eternal union of your kingdom. In your holy name, we wait and pray. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[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 13 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 15

Key verse: (1) “O LORD, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy hill?”

Reflection: When I was a child we moved a lot.  On average, I attended a new school almost every year, so it was important to know very quickly what the values and traditions were of any community we moved into.  So I really like it when rules, procedures, processes, guidelines, requirements, suggestions, and directions are spelled out clearly.  This was a basic survival skill for me in K through 12.  As an adult, I’m still drawn to groups and organizations that clearly state their goals and objectives.  This is one of the reasons that I am drawn to today’s psalm.  This psalm, attributed to King David, lays out values to live by that can lead to a faithful and content life. We know that doing what is right, speaking the truth, not doing evil to friends or seeking revenge; holding God in reverence and awe; and living up to our ideals are good, life giving things.  But, I wonder are we more conformed to the world and following our own desires than spending time with God so that we might be transformed by the Holy Spirit? I know that at times I fall short of the reminders in this psalm, but with God’s help I am able to discover the life God envisions for me to live. Each of us has an opportunity every day to live out our faith in such a way that others will be blessed.  It is a great gift to abide in the LORD’s “tent”.  The blessings are beyond compare.  Plan to spend some time with God today.

Prayer: Gracious God, we are thankful for your unmerited grace that gives us the opportunity to abide in and with you.  Help us this day to live like people who abide in your tent and dwell on your holy hill that others might experience your love, mercy and justice through our acts of compassion.  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].

Tuesday November 12 2019

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Scripture: Nehemiah 9:26-38

Key verse: (33) You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.

Reflection: A local church is having revival this week. Daily worship services are an opportunity to gather, to hear God’s word, and to renew commitments to follow Jesus Christ as disciples. Worshipers pray to be forgiven of sin and to experience the grace of God in a powerful way that revives their spirits. Recognizing and confessing our sin is a key step on the journey of faithfulness.

In the Old Testament, God’s people are caught in a cycle of faithfulness, then sin, then recognition and repentance, followed by a time of renewed faithfulness, and then sin again, and so on. After a time of exile in Babylon, the people were allowed to return to their homeland and Nehemiah was appointed governor over them. The book of Nehemiah records a tremendous revival of their commitment to God. In today’s passage the people of Israel were gathered together. They fasted, they wore sackcloth and they prayed together. Their priest Ezra prayed a long prayer of confession on behalf of the nation, acknowledging that cycle of faithfulness and sin that had been repeated over and over. Ezra also proclaimed God’s steadfast faithfulness and justice.

Honestly we all live in that cycle of faithfulness, then sin, then recognition and repentance that leads to renewed faithfulness. The good news is that God remains steadfast in loving us. God is gracious and merciful. God is patient and generous. Wherever you are today, whether you feel close to God or you feel far away in some kind of spiritual exile, whether you are living selfishly or unselfishly loving your neighbors, whether you are serving others or serving only yourself, God is steadfast in loving you. God invites you to confess, to repent, and to begin again. And again. And again.

Prayer: Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

                Because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come; I come!

                Just as I am, thy love unknown has broken every barrier down;

                Now to be thine, yea, thine alone; O Lamb of God, I come; I come!

Thank you for meeting me where I am today, O Lord. Revive my spirit and renew my faithfulness. 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 November 11 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 15:1-20

Key verses: (10-11) Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

Reflection: Our traditions are sacred to us.  We stand firm on traditions, from the date we begin decorating for Christmas to the exact Thanksgiving side dishes that must be served.  Traditions can share our values or give order to our beliefs. Traditions can also begin to stand alone and we become rigid, forgetting their purpose.

In Matthew, Jesus questions the priorities of the Pharisees and the scribes.  The traditions help support their commitment to God.  Jesus got them with a zinger and it makes you smile just a bit when someone gets called on the carpet. O.K. maybe it’s just me! Then I realize this word of God from Matthew is for you and for me too.  We are just as hypocritical as the Pharisee’s and scribes.

My grandmother made this amazing cranberry salad with pecans and grapes and it is not Thanksgiving without it, except that no one eats it. Not one person in my family besides me! This year, there will be no cranberry salad but there will still be thanksgiving with the people I love.  It will save me an hour that I can spend with them too.  This trivial discussion about traditional sides for thanksgiving also helps me to avoid discussion about larger issues of justice in the world that make my family uncomfortable and might cause some arguments.

We would rather stick to discussions about how ridiculous it is that people decorate for Christmas in November. (Does it really matter?)  The passage from Matthew reminds us that like the Pharisees and scribes, we are selfish and need Jesus to remind us to live with integrity.  Our beliefs and our actions should be consistent, even in the midst of our traditions. A good reminder as we go into this holiday season.

Prayer: God,  help me live with integrity as I follow your son; loving my neighbor, working for justice and welcoming the stranger. In his holy name. 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].