Tuesday April 24 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 98

Key verses: (1a, 4)

1   O sing to the LORD a new song….

4   Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

Reflection: My daughter’s high school choir just got back from a trip to New York City. After an overnight bus ride on the way up, they saw a Broadway musical, toured the 9/11 museum, and sang at St. Peter’s, Lincoln Center, and St. John the Divine. God bless their chaperones. I’ve loved hearing the choir perform over her high school years. They have sung some beautiful pieces, from all over the world. They even sang at MPPC earlier this year. The director asked me to help him set it up because he loves the acoustics in our sanctuary. It was an evening concert, all a capella (without accompaniment) and they sounded amazing. I have secretly loved that they sing so many sacred pieces. My prayer is that the words, and the glorious music, sink deep into my daughter’s soul (and her classmates) and stay there.

I sang in a high school choir. There were some songs we sang every year, and those pieces of music have stayed with me, though decades have passed. I read the psalm for today, about singing a new song to the Lord, and somehow thought again about one of those pieces we sang over thirty years ago. Cantate Domino, by Giuseppe Pitoni. The text comes from Psalm 149, and we sang it in Latin, but the words begin like this Psalm does, “sing to the Lord, sing a new song.” When we sing in the sanctuary and in Celebrate, or anywhere else in worship, we lift our voices in praise to God. Music can be a prayer. I told my daughter that listening to her choir sing is sometimes like worship to me. May the songs we sing and pray bring praise to God. And may they stay with us, deep in our souls, as a gift from God.

Enjoy this rendition of the song I remember singing, by the Christopher Wren Singers of the College of William & Mary. May it be our prayer today. Here are the English verses from which it comes:

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

Prayer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF_rxVoZoqM

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 April 23 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 5:1-10

Key verses: (5-10) 5 When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection: This is one of the most talked about sermons of Jesus. I wonder if Jesus saw these people who others didn’t know what to do with and saw their blessedness.  Jesus said there’s a blessedness in you even when you’re mourning or when you’re grieving. Even when it feels like the grief is the whole of who we are, Jesus saw people with a deeper blessedness that they could tap into, and from that deeper blessedness they could find a space where comfort would come. Through the eyes of Jesus, we can begin to see beyond whatever we think is broken or weak.  Christ-like vision can move things in us that we miss in ourselves.

Is this a blessing upon those that don’t seem to fit into regular society? It sounds like something Jesus would do.  Nadia Bolz Webber says that maybe Jesus is actually just blessing people, especially the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise. She offers us a modern-day list of extravagant blessings that Jesus might offer today.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working. Blessed are the pre-schoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet” Blessed are they who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. Blessed are Bo’s wife and kids and Billy’s mom and Amy Mac’s friends. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers and the night shift street sweepers. Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small. The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard – for they are those with whom Jesus chose to surround himself. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved and never does. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

I don’t know if that was Jesus’ intention of the Beatitudes. What I do know is that he offered and offers blessings of love, hope and peace to the least and the lost. Thanks be to God for his son who is our hope and ultimate blessing.

Prayer: May we be humble enough to know that we don’t always have to be the one to receive a blessing, God. May we be wise enough to know that we receive it anyway. 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].

Friday April 20 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 4:12-17

Key verse: (16) “…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.”

Reflection: A few years ago I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We spent our first week in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, not far the ruins of what was once Capernaum.  I never realized how much of the gospel took place in this rural area until we spent extended time there, reading the gospel stories in the places where they unfolded.  It was a delightful week in a serene and calm setting—much different than the second week in the craziness of Jerusalem.  We could understand how hard it must have been for Jesus to leave the serene country side and head to the big city.

Yet Capernaum was apparently not that beautiful, serene place in the first century.  In fact, Matthew invokes Isaiah’s words to describe it as “a place of darkness,” “the region of shadow and death.”  Why?  Because life was incredibly hard in that time and in that place.  They lived under the harsh rule of Rome.  Nothing was their own.  It is from this place of darkness that the light of God in Christ comes forth.

Perhaps it takes darkness for us to see light.  Perhaps we can only welcome light when we sit in darkness and the shadow of death.  Light certainly comes as good news when you find yourself in the dark.  Thanks be to God for light that shines when the darkness defines too much of our lives.

Prayer: Let your light shine this day in the dark places of our world this day, be they in our world, in our communities, or within the shadows of our hearts.  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].

 

Thursday April 19 2018

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Scripture: Exodus 20:1-21

Key verse: (2) “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; . . .”

Reflection: When I was growing up, my parents would say to me “don’t forget who you are”.  This was their way of reminding me that I was the daughter of an Air Force officer, a daughter who was loved, and a daughter who belonged to God and the church community.  As I recall, they said this a lot to me when I went to high school and later to college!  I have never forgotten it.  At the beginning of today’s scripture passage, God reminds the people who they are – people who have been set free from slavery by a God who loves them. This reminder is the preface to what we know as the Ten Commandments.  These laws were meant to build community and foster trust.  Many of our modern-day laws were originally based on these ten commands.  For people to get along, laws are necessary.

The large group of people who fled from slavery in Egypt needed a structure for their life together. They had never been free to make their own choices before. How can you trust your neighbor if you are worried that they might steal from you, take your spouse, kill a family member or conspire to take all of your belongings?  You can’t build community if people are suspicious of one another.  These commandments were meant to provide a framework for building a good life and a strong community.   A pattern for life built around the love of God and the love of neighbor was established.  Sometimes when we think about the Ten Commandments we think about the way they have been used politically.  Fights over if or where they should be posted flare up every few years and are broadcast in the news or social media.  This typically starts a discussion about the separation of church and state and the actual content of the commands is largely ignored.  For people of faith, they are a reminder of who we are and who we belong to.  Like all commands or “rules” they address issues that have already come up or potential issues that might arise.  Since we are prone to idolatry – God reminds us not to make idols to worship.  Since we are tempted to not have reverence for the living God, we are reminded to pay attention to how we use the LORD’s name.  This doesn’t just apply to cursing.  A greater issue might be the casual way we might overuse the name of God in everyday speech or prayer.  Since we are tempted to overwork, we are reminded to set aside a day of rest because God rested after the work of creation. The last six commands have to do with our relationships with one another.  We are called to honor our mothers and fathers (even the ones who are a challenge), never murder, never commit adultery, never steal, never testify falsely, never covet anything belonging to someone else.

Of course, I don’t know anyone who has ever been able to keep all of the commandments, except Jesus. Given our human frailty we will fail.  Thank goodness for God’s grace!  In times of temptation, we can stop and remember who we are and who we belong to.  And when we fail, it is a comfort to know that we can be forgiven and restored. Sometimes this means we will have a legal penalty to pay when we break the law (fines, jail, loss of privileges) or a personal consequence when we have broken trust with another person.  We always suffer the consequences of our choices.  But, the LORD who brought the people out of the house of bondage can deliver us from our missteps and mistakes.  We were given these laws for protection.  They set us free to live.   Today and every day “don’t forget who you are” – a precious child of God.

Prayer: O LORD, our God, we are grateful for your love and the reminder that we belong to you.  Help us to live as your people – showing forth your love, working for justice and living lives that honor 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].

Wednesday April 18 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17

Key verses: (16-17) 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Reflection: I love baptizing babies. There is something holy about splashing water on the fuzzy head of a child of God, proclaiming that they belong to God forever. Baptism brings together parents promising to raise their child to know and love God, a faith community promising to partner with them as they do, and the grace of God poured out on us all.

This past Sunday I baptized a number of little ones who were active and very vocal about the process. I had met with families beforehand to assure them that whatever happened would be perfectly fine. And it was, as it always is. Older siblings, about whom parents had worried, watched wide-eyed. One almost-toddler pushed my hand away after I baptized her (who can blame her—it’s not like we asked permission), but she stayed happy. One sweet boy cried through the prayer, then somehow stopped crying just after the water was placed on his head. During the early service I asked people to stand as they sang Jesus Loves Me by mistake, and it all still worked out just fine. It always does. That’s the grace of God that comes to us in baptism. We don’t have to be perfect angels to receive it. We don’t have to behave just right, say our lines just right, or know all the words to the Apostle’s Creed by heart. God reaches out to us, and says, “You are mine and I love you.”

Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for loving me and calling me your child. Thank you for all those in our church raising children to know and follow you. Help me partner with them to be your beloved community, bound together by your grace. 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].

Tuesday April 17 2018

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Scripture: Matt 3: 7-12

Key verses: (7-12) But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with[a] water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Reflection: I have always wondered if John the Baptist was disappointed in Jesus. Did he want a revolution? John knew he was paving the way for his cousin who would baptize with the holy spirit and fire.  Sounds like he was hoping Jesus would turn the world upside down.  “The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” sounds like fighting words.  I love this speech from John but the phrase that stands out to me is verse 9, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Complete faith not in this revolution but in the God of this revolution.

John doesn’t mess around because he is in the wilderness. This is a cry for change.  John speaks from the place of urgency. John is bold in his call for things to be different.  We need the voice of John the Baptist today to speak to our apathy for the kingdom of God.  We need John to call us to “Return to what God asks of you for the reign of God is nearer than you think.” The way of Jesus may not have been the revolution that John dreamed but the love of Christ transforms hearts, minds, systems and societies.  Let us continue our Kingdom work of justice, love and maybe a touch of revolution.

Prayer: God, stir in our hearts a desire for peace on earth and love for all. In the name of your son, we pray. 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 April 16 2018

Monday

Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17

Key verse: (1) “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Reflection: Mark Twain once said something like, “You spend $100 trying to find out about your family history, then you spend $1,000 to cover it up.”  Today we begin the gospel of Matthew in the daily lectionary readings.  Chapter 1 is put in parentheses, and chapter 3:1-6 is suggested for the reading.  While it may be tempting to skip chapter 1—it’s just a genealogy — don’t miss the dirt.  Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus reveals some important things.  First, he beings with Abraham and ties to King David; whereas Luke tracks Jesus all the way back to Adam.  This tells us Matthew’s interest is establishing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah in the line of David, a child of Abraham.  This is of important theological interest.

However, the human interest is more compelling.  Matthew’s genealogy is not like other ancient genealogies, because it contains the names of women.  And the women are very interesting characters.  The first woman to appear is Tamar, mother of Perez and Zerah, by Judah.  That might sound pretty straight forward, but Judah was in fact Tamar’s father-in-law.  Her story is told in Genesis 38.  Judah dealt with her unjustly after her husband, Er’s death.  In order to conceive children, she tricked him by dressing up like a prostitute.  When he tried to accuse her of immorality, she revealed his own immorality and she bore him twin boys.  King David would be born of Perez’s line.

Then there’s Ruth. She is a Moabite. According to Deuteronomy 23:3, Moabites are not allowed in the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation.  Yet Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, and here she is in Jesus’ family tree! Then there’s this fateful line: “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.”  One would not normally see a line like that in a genealogy.  A descendent born by the wife of another man—a direct violation of the seventh commandment.  All these characters are in Jesus’ family tree!

What does this mean for us?  For those of us who have some stories in our families of origin, Jesus’ family tree makes most of ours look pretty good!  More importantly, it’s through this broken family with all its intrigue and immorality and deceit that God works to redeem the world.  If God can use them, then perhaps God can use us in God’s ongoing work of transforming the world.

Prayer: Thank you for our families, O God, for all the saintly sinners and all the sinful saints who made us who we are.  By your grace and through your power, may we join your redemptive work in the world today.  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].