Thursday July 31 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 27:55-66
Key Verses: Matthew 27:55-61 55Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him.56Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.58He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.59So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Reflection: There are moments in our lives when we experience Church happening around us. These are holy moments as the Body of Christ bears witness to love, justice and compassion.  This passage may be the first glimpse of the church in action as the women gather together after the crucifixion.   Mary, the mother of Jesus, was with Jesus at the foot of the cross. This would have been the most awful and gut wrenching experience of her life, to see and experience the death of her son on the cross. The sword that pieced his side could have just as well pierced her side as she suffered the deepest of wounds that day.  She could feel the pain that Jesus felt—that is the way it is with parents.

I have known and watched many parents in my twenty years as a pastor and watched such mothers and fathers when their children are in great pain and even dying.  Like Mary, the parents totally feel the pain of their child. Mary felt the excruciating pain of Jesus…but she was not alone. Her best friends and sister were there with her and although their love and compassion did not diminish the sadness and agony she was feeling, they were present.  They were our first glimpse of church. Her friends and sister sat with her in her grief.  They could not lift her out of the situation and neither could they smooth it over to make it all OK.

We will face darkness, we may even feel the excruciating pain that our children may feel and all of us will probably experience the grief associated with a loved one dying.  In those moments, we will be together.  It does not diminish the sadness or agony, but like Mary it may just allow us to stay present in the place where we desperately need to be.

Prayer: God of light and darkness, may I be present in all of life’s situations. Plant my feet when I want to run and seal my lips when I need to be present for another.  Allow me to be the body of Christ with you and with each other.  In your Son’s name I 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].

Wednesday July 30 2014

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Scripture: Psalm 65
Key verse 11: You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.

Reflection: In Psalm 65, images of God’s abundance abound. It is a psalm of thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth. Mountains stand strong; seas roar and foam; morning and evening are full of joy. God “visits the earth and water(s) it,” and new life results. There is harvest, and grain, and joyful overflowing of pastures and meadows. Even valleys are decked with growth.

I love the image in verse 11, of wagon tracks overflowing with richness. I picture a harvest cart so full of gathered grain and crops that they roll off the cart onto the path. Imagine the joy of children and others, discovering left-behind fruit and food, ripe for gathering. There is plenty to share, and it is given freely. I recently read this line, “Where God goes, richness abounds.” Those who stumble upon the abundance of God’s grace are rich indeed.

I wonder where God is producing fruit around you? Are your eyes open to God’s bounty overflowing in the wagon tracks of your life? With whom can you share it?

Prayer: Lord your grace overflows. You provide abundantly all that I need. Teach me to recognize the richness of your world around me, and all your gifts to me. Teach me to share them with others. Through Christ the Lord, 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 July 29 2014

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Scripture: Judges 2:11-23 
Key Verses: Judges 2:11-12 Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; 12and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.

Reflection: This ancient book in the Old Testament is about a period of time in Israel’s history when they came out of the wilderness and moved into the Promised Land but were still formed in nomadic tribes. These are people who were born in the wilderness and their ancestors were slaves and now they are trying to become a nation. They have no idea what they’re doing!

There’s a cycle in the Book of Judges where Israel abandons their commitment to God to worship other gods and the Lord allows their enemies to rise up against them. Then they cry out and God delivers them…only to repeat the cycle again and again and again.

What is it with us? Wouldn’t it be nice just to lock into something and stay there? Why do we have to have the ups and the downs, the ins and the outs, the temptations, the failures, the weaknesses, the stumbles and the falls? Wouldn’t it be nice to be solid, completely committed, never wavering, and humble at the same time! But our human condition is something different from that. We wrestle with the serpent, we are tempted by the fruit, we always want to be something we’re not and we get lost.

But there’s somebody else in our story. God keeps looking for us. God keeps providing ways out for us in places where we have fallen and failed. God keeps sending gifts to empower us, forgiving us for even the crucifixion, rolling back stones and defeating all the odds and offering us another way to do it. Isn’t that incredible?

Prayer: Lord, it’s easy for me to read the story and get bogged down and depressed about our human plight. It’s so repetitious and exhausting. In fact, sometimes it even looks hopeless. But then you show up in the story. You won’t quit! You keep coming back with grace, power, strength, forgiveness, hope, healing, reconciliation, resurrection! The story is not about us is it? The story is about You! What a relief! In Jesus’ name. Amen

Author: Steve Eason

[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 July 28 2014

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Scripture: Joshua 24: 16-33
Key Verses: Joshua 24:16-17a “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight.”

Reflection: At the end of the book of Joshua, the tribes of Israel renew their covenant with the LORD God. This last chapter tells a condensed history of their journey into the promised land and the Lord’s faithfulness. This happens right before Joshua, their leader, dies.

It is important at times of transition to review where you have been in order to know where to go. The people of Israel recommit themselves to the LORD. They do this by remembering how they were freed from a life of bondage in Egypt to become a free people united under God’s commandments and ordinances. They were given new life – a direction – that helped them build community and a life together.

There are times in our lives as a community, and also in our individual lives, when renewal of purpose is appropriate and important. The summer months provide us an opportunity for a change of pace and potentially more leisure time. How are you using this time? If you are in a life transition, this might be a good time to review your life and reflect upon your faith and purpose. Remember the God who created you and celebrate the life you have been given. Renew your commitment to follow Jesus Christ and set new goals for the rest of the year. If appropriate, ask for guidance so you can move forward. Above all, remember the LORD God is the one who sets the captives free, including you.

Prayer: Faithful God, help us to live into the freedom you provide. Remind us of your faithfulness and great love. Where we are held captive – set us free – so that we might fully live as your people. With grateful hearts we pray 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 July 25 2014

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Scripture:Matthew 27:1-10
Key verse: Matthew 27:5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

Reflection: Suicide is horrible and horrific. When someone kills herself, whether impulsively or after careful thought, family and friends are left with unanswered questions, unresolved guilt, and unimaginable anger. Suicide seems like the best solution inside a tortured mind that can’t see any other way forward, but it isn’t best. Asking for help, voicing the thought, and confessing the plan takes tremendous courage.

The disciple Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and to the Roman authorities in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. According to the gospel of Matthew, Judas regretted his action after Jesus was condemned to death. Judas tried to return the money to the chief priests but they didn’t accept his repentance. Then Judas went and hanged himself.

In her essay, Waiting for Judas, Madeleine L’Engle shares an old legend: “After his death, Judas found himself at a bottom of a slimy pit. For thousands of years, he wept in repentance and when his tears were spent, he looked up and saw, way, way up, a tiny glimmer of light! After reflecting upon this little shaft of light for another thousand years, Judas began to climb toward it. Because the walls of the pit were wet and slimy, he slipped back again and again. After many more tears and many more tries, Judas managed to drag himself out of the pit! Suddenly he found himself in an upper room with 12 people seated around a table. ‘We have been waiting for you, Judas,’ said Jesus, ‘We couldn’t begin until you came!‘”

Prayer: O God, for all those whose thoughts are clouded, whose paths are convoluted, and whose hearts are broken, we pray. Give us courage when we need to offer help, and give us courage when we need to ask for help. Remind us of your abundant forgiveness that includes every single one of us at your table. In Jesus’ name. 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 July 24 2014

 

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Scripture: Romans 15: 4-13
Key Verses: Romans 15:5-7 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God

Reflection: This is the gospel in a nutshell. Christ has welcomed us, all of us, and brought us home to God and to each other. Have you heard the song HOME by Philip Philips? If you have not, listen to it sometime. Every time I hear that song, I think of the church that is my home and is home for many people. It sounds like sentimentality, but it is about this welcome. To open our arms to those who otherwise are strangers and even enemies is nothing short of a miracle of grace. The experience of that welcome is the way we learn that “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

In every setting in which this welcome is offered, whether personal or institutional, the character of the persons offering welcome is crucial if it is to be life-giving. Paul continues to give instructions on how to be the church with discernment, wisdom, flexibility, humility, and hospitality. There is blessing and mutuality in welcome. In our task-oriented culture, this requires us to rethink our priorities as we seek to welcome one another into our families. This may mean welcoming people into the ordinary parts of our lives instead of creating a big social event. It might also mean being the church within our homes. Many times our families get the worst of us because we are tired and they are the most forgiving. Home. Who and where is your home?

Prayer: With arms of welcome, God you invite me into a place where I can risk being real. May your love empower me to reach out beyond myself and my world to be a place of welcome as the body of Christ in this world. 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].

 

 

Wednesday July 23 2014

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Scripture: Psalm 4

Key Verses: Psalm4:1, 8
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.

Reflection: You’ve been there: a sleepless night, when events of the past or worry about the future keep your mind racing. Maybe you are so used to it that you know how to cope. You get up and watch TV, or read a book. Or maybe you try warm milk, or hot tea, or something stronger. Maybe you stay in bed, turning the pillow over, tossing around and staring in disbelief as the clock keeps moving forward. These are the nights the Psalmist recalls as he cries to God.

In the Psalm, his mind wanders around, first recalling other people who don’t act faithfully, then reminding himself not to sin, and to be glad even when good is hard to find. He talks to God, to himself, to those who have wronged him. He is wound up in anxiety, but he prays his way through it.

Consider the image that stands out in verse 1: “You gave me room when I was in distress….” In other places in the Old Testament, the phrase means literally “release from a tight noose at the neck.” The Psalmist remembers where God has allowed space and breathing room, and silence and peace to quiet anxious thoughts and worries. Sleep comes when we can hand our burdens over to God, remembering that God alone provides our comfort and our safety. May your day and night be free from whatever grips you too tightly to breathe, and may God’s peace bring you rest.

Prayer: God you are with me in the darkest night, and always. Release me from the worries and regrets that threaten to choke me. Grant me breathing room, and peace, so I may be renewed to love and serve you again tomorrow. In Christ’s name 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 July 22 2014

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Scripture: Romans 14:1-12
Key Verses: Romans 14:7-8  We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

Reflection: This is a powerful affirmation of faith. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (14:8) That pretty much settles it! What can happen to you that falls outside of those parameters? Nothing. So we don’t live to ourselves, our life is lived out on a stage before the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. It’s crazy that we’re here on this ball, spinning in space. Let’s not forget that. We’re not in charge of anything, we’re entrusted with everything! So if we live with anxiety and fear, as if we don’t belong to God, we have forfeited the prime reason for our existence. We don’t live to ourselves, this isn’t about us. We’re not here to build up some big deal and hand it on to somebody else. We’re here to live unto the Lord. Even when we die, we die unto the Lord. So either way, we are the Lord’s. Have a good day!

Prayer: Why do I forget this, O Lord? What is it about us that we fail to live our lives in full response to your grace and majesty? Why do we narrow it all down and put it in such small boxes when it is so big and so grand and so wonderful. Why do we miss the whole point while we’re fumbling around with crumbs? I don’t know, but I acknowledge your name above all names and I pray for your kingdom to come and your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven! In gratitude and in praise, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Author: Steve Eason

[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 July 21 2014

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Scripture: Matthew 26:36-46
Key verses: Matthew 26:40-41“So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Reflection: Today’s passage is set in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Jesus and the disciples have finished the Passover meal (which instituted the Lord’s Supper) and then they retreated to a nearby garden. Jesus tells them to sit and he goes to another place in the garden to pray. We aren’t certain if the disciples prayed but we do know they fell asleep. If they are like the rest of us, they began to pray and fell asleep. (How many times has that happened to you in the evening after a big meal!) Three times Jesus came back to check on them and they weren’t praying but sleeping. What’s wrong with them? I think they didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. Jesus acknowledges their willingness and also their weakness.

We, too, struggle to “stay awake”. We fall asleep, literally and metaphorically, because we are distracted by many other things.   Jesus wanted them to pray with him. He wants us to pray with him. He warns them and us to stay awake.

If we want to cultivate a relationship with Jesus we may have to make some changes. Maybe we need to eat less and rest more. Maybe we need to pay attention to how God is working in us and in the world. Maybe we need to acknowledge that our flesh is weak so we should take better care of ourselves. When we acknowledge our weaknesses we have the opportunity to “watch and pray”. The story of the Garden of Gethsemane is a friendly reminder for all of us from Jesus.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for giving us the impulse to draw closer to you in prayer. We confess our physical weakness. Help us to give the best part of our day to you so that we might stay awake. Remind us to pay attention to what is going on around us and how you are working in our lives and the lives of others. 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 July 18 2014

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Scripture: Romans 12:9-21
Key verse: Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Reflection: We all encounter evil. Sometimes the evil is public and tragic, like a shooting at a shopping mall or a kidnapping at a school. Sometimes the evil is close to home, in angry words between coworkers or yelling in the house next door. And sometimes the evil is within us, in our own temptations and grudges and petty resentments.

How do we respond to evil? The apostle Paul exhorted the Christians in Rome to not be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good. We see Paul’s admonition embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even when he was betrayed, arrested, tortured, and killed, Jesus did not respond with evil. Instead he responded with goodness. He was nonviolent and forgiving. Even after his resurrection when he could have returned to gloat over his enemies or to punish those who hurt him, he came to his friends with words of peace. Jesus did not allow himself to be overcome by evil even when it looked like evil was winning all around him. Following his example is very hard to do but it is central for a disciple. If you are going to be a disciple today, how will you respond to evil? What good can you bring into the world today?

Prayer: Almighty God, help me overcome evil with good today. When I am tempted to believe that the end justifies the means, and that evil actions can further a good purpose, stop me and correct me. Teach me to follow Jesus. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder