Friday October 31 2014

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Scripture: Luke 12:13-31
Key Verses: 22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Reflection: First World Problems. That has become a common way of tagging our anxieties, issues and problems that might be a bit ridiculous or trivial in the larger world. When the vending machine is out of Diet Coke right before my 3 p.m. meeting, that is a crisis for me. It is also a first world problem. We get annoyed because no one can make a decision on which restaurant to choose for dinner, because there are four within a mile that are great—first world problem. The tag line helps us to frame our small crisis and keep it in check. If we do not keep it in check, a first world problem of wearing the same dress to a party could easily become presumed sabotage. Judgement soon invites others into the anxiety. In the larger world, there are people who do not have clean water today. Still others will have only one simple meal. Our problems are real, but Jesus reminds us to check in on our worries.

If we continue to live in our anxieties, we will experience worry instead of true life. We may not even be able to find a bit of joy. Jesus points to the flowers and the birds to show us the joy they experience. God knows what they need and provides. God cares for them and will care for us. We forget how deeply we are loved. May that knowledge of God’s love guide us throughout today.

Prayer: I know that I am deeply loved by you, God. When I am tired, anxious, worried and frustrated, help me breathe in that love. 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].

Thursday October 30 2014

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Scripture: Luke 11:53-12:12
Key verses: 1b Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

Reflection: The Pharisees often are the objects of scorn and derision. We make them the bad guys we can look down on and in so doing fall into the same trap Jesus warned his disciples about.

Hypocrisy, putting on a role or the façade of propriety while acting in contrary ways, is an easy critique to make of other people. From the outside it is often easy to see the discrepancies between what someone says and what they actually do. How awful, we say, that they can’t have integrity. But hypocrisy is more than playing a role. A more pervasive hypocrisy is saying we belong to God while ignoring God’s commands and our neighbors. We say we are followers of Jesus but put ourselves at the center of our lives.

Jesus warned his disciples that, in times of challenge, playing a role may seem to be the easy way out. But, as we know all too well, the disconnects of hypocrisy rarely ever stay hidden. They are brought to light and made public. Better, he warned, is to make what you do as important as what you say, not out of fear of public disclosure, but because the God who loves even the smallest sparrow loves us and will be with us. When we lack trust in God’s love and care for us, then hypocrisy looks attractive. When we cling to God’s love and grace, then we will not fear living with integrity.

Prayer: Our actions often betray our words, O God. We fall short, not only of our own best intentions, but of your intentions for us. Ground us so firmly in your grace and love that we will not be afraid to actually live what we say we believe. In the name of the one in whom there was no hypocrisy, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Author: Von Clemans

[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 October 29 2014

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Scripture: Luke 11:37-52
Key verses 37-42: 37 While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.

Reflection: This passage sounds like a different Jesus than the one we know as a great teacher and healer. This Jesus is full of bad news for Pharisees and for lawyers who profit from, but do not help, their clients. “Woe to you,” he says to his dining companions, over and over again. Woe to you when you do not care for the needs of others. Woe to you when you care more about the outside than the inside. Woe to you when you are all about appearances. It’s a far cry from the Jesus of the beatitudes, who said “Blessed are you…” It would be easy to say that the blessings are for those who deserve them, and the woes for all the other people. But I wonder if perhaps we are all both kinds of people.

I am reminded of my sister’s wedding in Croatia. The pastor, doing his best to conduct the service in English, said that it was time for the vows, except he pronounced it “woes.” “Now we come to the woes…..these two have said their woes to one another….” My family still laughs about that, years later. But I think he was on to something. In a marriage, or in any kind of life with others, there are blessings and there are woes. We will love one another well, and we will disappoint one another terribly. We will share what we have at times, and walk right past the needy at others. Sometimes we are the ones gathered at the feet of Jesus in praise and worship. Other times, his words indict us. Still he welcomes us all to his table. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I seek your blessing, yet I fear my life deserves more woes than anything else. Keep correcting me. Keep me open to hearing your word and seeking your way. Give me patience and peace with others who are also struggling to follow you. In the name of Christ, who showed your abundant mercy and grace, 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 October 28 2014

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Scripture: Jonah 3:1-4:11
Key Verses: Jonah 3:1-5 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

Reflection: Almost everybody knows the story of Jonah of the whale. But do we really know it? Jonah is asked by God to go to the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh and proclaim judgment on the city. It was an empire guilty of depraved and brutal conduct. (There are brutal things going on in the region of Nineveh/Iraq today.)

Nineveh was offensive to God so he ordered Jonah to preach repentance with a promise of judgment if they failed to respond. It would be a gutsy thing to do. Jonah didn’t want to do it, and I can understand why.

Jonah resists doing what God wants him to do but finally discovers he cannot flee from God’s presence and so he surrenders. He goes to Nineveh. Nineveh repents and Assyria survives for another century.

Where is the voice of the Lord in our current world situations? How are we being called to repent and to turn back to what God created us to be? Have we given up on that, embarrassed of our faith and allegiance to God? Have we given in to Nineveh? Wow, that would be a catastrophic mistake.

Prayer: Lord, hear our prayer today for all the nations of the world. For all the men, women and children who are suffering in the ravages of brutal war. Hear our prayer for our enemy who are so angry and filled with rage that they cannot see your truth. Hear our prayer for our world leaders as they decide how to react in these complicated situations. We are incapable of bringing Nineveh back where you would have it be. This is only something you can do by the power of your Holy Spirit. We pray for your divine intervention today in our world. Through Christ the risen Lord we pray.  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 October 27 2014

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Scripture: Jonah 1:17-2:10
Key Verse: 17 “But the LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

Reflection: Have you ever tried to get out of doing something you knew you had to do? That’s what Jonah does in this well-known Bible story. Children in Sunday School everywhere have heard about Jonah and the whale. But, how many of us have actually read the story as adults? Jonah’s response to God’s call was to run away. He left Tarshish and went down to Joppa, down to the docks, and down into a ship just to get away from what God wanted him to do. Finally, Jonah ends up down in the belly of a big fish. It was then that he realized that he couldn’t get away from God.  He was stuck and couldn’t get out without God’s help.

Life is like this sometimes, isn’t it? We run away from all kinds of things. We run away from difficult situations, responsibilities or the call to follow Jesus. When we try to limit dealing with anything challenging, we also limit our ability to grow. There are times we avoid relationships that could bring us great joy because we are afraid. We run away. We hide. We get swallowed up by a big fish. We realize we need help.

Maybe your circumstances have swallowed you up and you feel like you are trapped in the belly of the whale. You can’t see the way out. Our scripture today says: “Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the LORD out of my distress, and God answered me . . .” Perhaps you have been praying and you still feel trapped. Perhaps the fish has spit you out on the beach and you are disoriented and afraid. Ask for help – talk to a trusted friend, Stephen Minister or pastor. Listen carefully to God’s call to you. Take a leap of faith and follow where God is leading.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to listen for your voice and follow your leading. Remind us that our lives belong to you. May we be faithful disciples and follow in your way, the way of Jesus Christ. In His 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 October 24 2014

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Scripture: Micah 6:1-8
Key Verse: Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Reflection: This verse is a good one to memorize because it sums up God’s expectations of us. The prophet Micah was deeply concerned about injustice. He spoke the truth, called God’s people to faithfulness, and offered a vision of a new transformed world. Micah reminded the people that God wasn’t impressed by their empty religious rituals. God wanted them to live transformed lives. This is a call to integrity. Are we worshiping God at church for one hour a week but then living the rest of our lives for ourselves without justice, kindness, and humility?

I have come to realize that the call to “walk humbly with your God” might be a bit different than I originally thought. I assumed that this was a call to be humble in the presence of an awesome, majestic, almighty God. This was a call to remember my own frailty and to accept my own role as “creature” and not Creator.

Then someone pointed out to me that perhaps the call is to walk humbly with God because that’s how God walks. It’s like saying “walk slowly with the person on crutches” – because that’s the only way to walk along beside them. If you want to walk beside God, you have to walk humbly. God is found among the least of these. When you walk humbly through your world, you will find yourself walking beside God.

Prayer: I long for integrity, O God, so that there are no distinctions between my spiritual life and the rest of my life. May my worship of you be a natural outflowing of my daily life. Empower me to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you. 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 October 23 2014

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Scripture: Luke 10: 25-37
Key Verses: 25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Reflection: Does Jesus really want us to be the Good Samaritan?   We can read this parable and respond with compassion for our neighbors: bind wounds of strangers, pay medical bills for those who cannot afford basic care and we can offer hospitality to those who are beaten and wounded in this world. We know we are to take care of the oppressed and bind the wounds of the wounded. It would not be bad to read this parable as a call to be more charitable.

We can also read this parable and remember moments when we have been the ones who have been recipients of care by a Good Samaritan. We may have gone somewhere to offer charity but found that we were the ones who were wounded and bandaged with care. The most unexpected person offered us hospitality and compassion. In those situations, we may have even watched righteous people walk right by our brokenness. Is that the point of the parable?

Jesus tells the lawyer to go and do likewise. I wonder if he is asking the lawyer to imitate his enemy, the Samaritan.   Jesus is always about the relationships and less about the task. What if Jesus is encouraging the lawyer to spend time with his enemy and learn what is in his heart?   The lawyer began by asking Jesus, his teacher, to tell him what he must do to inherit eternal life. This parable was his answer. Could Jesus be encouraging the lawyer, and us, to see all of God’s children as teachers? Not just any of God’s children…but our enemies, those who are beneath us, about whom jokes are told. We have lots of nick-names for them and anything negative is their fault.   We know we are called to love them because they are our neighbor, but here Jesus challenges us to enter into a relationship with our enemies and learn from them. Imagine that.

Prayer: God, you created in love, you redeem with love, you sustain me every day with your love. Help me to love in the same way that you love me— with loyalty, compassion and acceptance. May this encounter transform me into the person you call me to be, always open to the possibilities and filled with hope. I pray these and all things in the name of the One who challenges me with parables year after year. 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 October 22 2014

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Scripture: Micah 3:9–4:5
Key verses: 9 Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, 10 who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! 11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.”

Reflection: This summer I had the privilege of spending over a month in Jerusalem. Some of the time I was digging at an archaeological site in 2,000 year old dirt. Other days I was visiting museums and exploring underground tunnels that revealed the history of this city that plays such a central role in the biblical story. One sunny day I stood at the ground level of the southwest corner of the Temple Mount near the Western/Wailing Wall. Above was the site of Israel’s Temple until it was destroyed in 70 A.D.

As I looked around I was amazed at the size of the massive blocks of limestone that formed the foundation of that Temple, some still forming a wall, but many others strewn on the ground in chaotic rubble left to bear witness to the destruction of Israel’s most holy place.

I wondered how many people of God — leaders and everyday people — had through the years assumed no harm would come upon them because they were God’s chosen and special people. Yet they practiced injustice and inequity, often in God’s name.

The prophet Micah warned the Hebrew people centuries before the final destruction of the Temple that God’s favor, though unmerited, prompts a human response of justice and equity toward others.

The way we know we are God’s people is not how often we call upon the name of the Lord, but how much our daily practice mirrors God’s love toward all of God’s children.

The way we know we are living God’s intentions for us is not how big our buildings are but whether we shape a world where “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid…”

Prayer: God of the prophets, forgive our arrogant ways. Shape our daily living until what we say is what we do and every prayer becomes an act of justice. Through Jesus the Christ in whom your kingdom came on earth.

Author: Von Clemans

[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 October 21 2014

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Scripture: Psalm 99
Key Verses 6-7: 6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. 7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.

Reflection: Over the weekend I had the opportunity to hear Barbara Brown Taylor speak at Myers Park Baptist Church. She is an Episcopal priest, a professor, preacher, and writer. Her latest book is Learning to Walk in the Dark. She spoke beautifully about how we so often hold the idea that darkness is bad, and to be avoided, and that God is to be found in the light. The biblical witness seems to hold the same idea, as in the over 100 references where the word “darkness” is found, they are all negative: God is light, and in God is no darkness at all… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And yet, she points out, God is often revealed in and through the dark. We’ve walked through some of those stories in our sermon series lately. God’s covenant promises come to Abram on a dark night, and it is only in darkness that the promise can be seen in the starry sky. God wrestles with Jacob in the dark, and a blessing comes out of it. In this passage today we are reminded that God led the people of Israel through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud (a dark cloud.) That was in the daytime. At night (in the dark) God was revealed through fire. When Moses went up on the mountain to talk with God, a cloud descended. Within that cloud, Moses came face to face with God, and the blessings of the law were given. The resurrection of Jesus happened in the dark.

God is revealed to us in the dark times in a way that is impossible when all is light. If we can let ourselves sit calmly in the dark long enough to let our breathing slow, and our eyes adjust, and recall that God created the dark too, perhaps there is a blessing in it for us.

Prayer: Lord of light and dark, you are never far from me. Even when all seems darkest and I cannot see my way, you are there. Help me open my eyes to see you in the dark. Lead me in your way. In the name of Jesus 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].

Monday October 20 2014

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Scripture: Luke 9:51-62
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Reflection: Jesus gave nicknames to some of his disciples. He called the brothers James and John, “Sons of Thunder.” It was sort of a tongue in cheek joke. It may have come from this story.

They are headed to Jerusalem and they enter a village of the Samaritans (who Jews absolutely hated…long story) but they would not receive the disciples or Jesus. When James and John learned of it they said, “Lord do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (9:54) In other words, “Let’s just torch them!” There’s a Christian response for you. So in essence Jesus called them “hot-heads – Sons of Thunder.”

Sometimes having a righteous anger is actually a good thing. Nobody should sit back and take injustices lightly. They ought to make us mad. We should be mad at a lot of things – prejudice, discrimination, war, child abuse…you name it. Some folks call it “righteous indignation.”

Anger can either melt into depression or it can destroy you with rage and bitterness. There’s also the option to use your anger to do something constructive. You don’t have to burn down the village! James and John had it wrong. There are times we all have it wrong. You don’t always fight fire with fire. Sometimes you fight fire with water. You fight hate with grace.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that you would break my heart where it is hard and callous. I’m glad you don’t listen to our suggestions. We are short-sighted and reactive in nature. We want to torch the village and you want to heal it. Help us to leave our old selves and move into our new selves that are a reflection of who you are and of your grace and mercy. Through Christ we pray. 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].