Monday August 31 2015

Monday

Scripture: James 2:1–13

Key verse: (12) So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.

Reflection: It was just before the beginning of the service and the typical buzz filled the room. Folks greeted each other and caught up on what had happened in the last week or two. The candles were lit and the clergy and musicians took their places. The pre-service music played beautifully as people found their seats. Then, there was a commotion at one of the side doors. Many people looked up and caught their first glance of the source of the disturbance.

A disheveled man in torn, mis-matched clothes stepped through the entrance, stopped and looked around. His hair was long and his beard was untrimmed. Clearly he was from a different place than the worshippers. He had on several layers of clothes as if his body was his backpack. Folks entering behind him gave him a wide berth as they came in the Sanctuary to find their seats. It looked as if the man was stuck in the entrance, and perhaps he was, but eventually he moved toward a seat at the front of the church.

People looked uneasily at each other. Mothers scooted their children closer to them. An usher came down the aisle and spoke to the man, who shook his head. The man remained seated. The usher left. The service started. As the opening melody of the first hymn began, the man stood up and walked out the door. A sigh of relief passed through the congregation. The people began to sing.

According to James: (vs. 2-10)

For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

Prayer: Our partiality condemns us, O God. Our love and concern is not as boundless as yours. We want to love our neighbors but instinctively shrink back. Transform what’s inside of us to be as nice as what is outside of us. We pray in the name of Jesus, friend and champion of the outcast. 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].

Friday August 28 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 88

Key verses: ( 1-2, 13) O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.  But I, O Lord, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Reflection: Daily prayer is an old practice of the church. Early monastic communities centered their lives around the rhythm of the “daily office,” when prayers were said and sung at prescribed times of day, and into the night. During the Reformation, some church traditions were simplified so that regular people could participate in what had become complicated practices by religious professionals. Many of us today try to keep to a personal schedule of some kind of morning and evening prayer. No doubt your reading and prayer using these daily devotionals is a part of your own practice.

Our brand new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God, contains suggestions for daily prayer: Morning, Midday, Evening, and at the Close of Day. We will celebrate the new hymnal and its resources for communal worship this Sunday. It contains 853 hymns, psalms and songs, almost half of which were found in our old blue hymnal, and the other half from older Presbyterian and other hymnals, or newer composers. We welcome all the ways it will enrich our worship on Sunday mornings. If you get a chance when you are next in the sanctuary, take a look at the front of the hymnal, pages 23-33, as a possible resource for your own continued daily prayer at home or with small groups.

Our prayer this morning is adapted from Glory to God.

Prayer: Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.

(Give your own prayers for… the beauty of creation and the wonder of living; the love of family and friends; particular blessings of the day; opportunities for faithful service; the mission and ministry of the church.  Lift up your own intercessions for……family, friends, and neighbors; those who are sick or suffering; those who are poor or vulnerable; peace and justice in the world; the church of Jesus Christ in every land.)

As you cause the sun to rise, O God, bring the light of Christ to dawn in our souls and dispel all darkness. Give us grace to reflect Christ’s glory; and let his love show in our deeds, his peace shine in our words, and his healing in our touch, that all may give him praise, now and forever. 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].

Thursday August 27 2015

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Scripture: Mark 14:12-26

Key verse: (25) “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Reflection: Through my almost sixty-eight years of living embedded in the Presbyterian Church, I have participated in many, many celebrations of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper — the Eucharist as it is known throughout the Church Universal.  Most often these have been somber events, almost mournful, generally with music that feeds a sense of grief, of loss.  The focus is on the death of Jesus, the sacrifice he makes on the cross.

Indeed, the setting of the Lord’s last supper with his disciples in Mark’s telling is full of pathos. Judas is at the table. All the disciples are there. Peter will soon deny he even knows Jesus. Every disciple will flee and abandon Jesus as he is led off to be executed. It is clearly a very freighted moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry.

As he shares the feast, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  Until means something more is in store! So is this meal only mournful? Or is it a defiant declaration by Jesus that God wins — that even the betrayal, abandonment, the death he is about to suffer because he will not flee from us, because he will be faithful to God and God’s purposes to love the whole world regardless — will not defeat God’s reign?

Jesus knows he will party again with people from north and south, east and west at the feast in God’s kingdom. Jesus knows he will be at the banquet that looks like this — For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free, . . . . (1)

Until! Perhaps as we gather at the table, we should be celebrating more than mourning.

Prayer: Holy One, keep our eye focused on Jesus’ promise that indeed your reign is coming. Amen.

Author: Pete Peery

(1) Hymn 769, Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal, “For Everyone Born,”  Text:  Shirley Erena Murray, 1998

[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 August 26 2015

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Scripture: 1 Kings 3:1-15

Key verse: (9) “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

Reflection: Three years after the death of his father, King David, Solomon settled all accounts with those who had sought him harm. He consolidated his reign and established the kingdom. Solomon married and began to make plans to finish building the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. It says in our passage that “Solomon loved the LORD”. He desired to walk in the ways of God following his father’s example of righteousness and uprightness of heart. So, he prayed and asked God to give him an understanding mind and the ability to discern. Solomon is often referred to as being wise. We are all familiar with the expression “the wisdom of Solomon” in reference to making decisions. However, in this passage the Hebrew word for wisdom isn’t used directly. Instead, Solomon is described as a man of good judgment with an ability to govern well. He has understanding and discernment which are very important aspects of wisdom.

God is pleased with Solomon’s prayer because he asked God to help him do God’s will and follow in God’s ways. Solomon approached God with gratitude and humility. He wasn’t seeking his own agenda. What might happen if we were to pray this way? We aren’t rulers of a nation, but we have responsibilities and obligations to others that are important to fulfill. Will we rely on our own strength seeking our own benefit or will we become more dedicated servants of a living God? Do we pray that we might know better how to serve God or has prayer become our way of asking God to serve us?

Prayer:  Eternal God, help us to walk in the ways of justice and truth. May we show the love of Jesus Christ in our actions and decisions as we seek to serve you. Give us understanding minds and the ability to discern good from evil. Give us open hearts like children so that we might learn from 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].

Tuesday August 25 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 146

Key verse: (9) The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Reflection: The Bible has a special place for widows because the widow had no place in her society. It was a man’s world and if a woman lost her man, she lost her world. She had no right to her home or possessions and all she had worked tirelessly to produce including the house she turned into a home, would be given to her sons, or husband’s brothers. That was the law. If her sons or brothers-in-law were decent and fair- then she would be safe. If they were not, she was in trouble and she would need help. She would need a judge whose job was to stand in place for God, or at least God’s justice and compassion. The widow could petition the judge – go and meet him in the city square; he would hear her case and mete out justice. He could force her family to act with compassion and dignity. He could restore her honor and broker a new deal. She could be protected, just as the Bible commands (think of Jesus’ parable in Luke of the Unjust Judge).

It is interesting that in the midst of a male dominated society and in the middle of a book that often reflects that male dominated society, we find God’s heart breaking for widows. The ones who were the most vulnerable were foremost in God’s mind and in God’s heart and he was looking out for them. And add the poor to God’s prayers and watchfulness. And orphans.  And the prisoners.

So, when we say God bless America, God says Amen, and gets to work doing what God said he would do (read his prayer list in this Psalm) and invites us to join along.

Prayer: (A Taize chant) Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. Those who seek God will never go wanting. Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten, God alone saves us. Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[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 August 24 2015

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Scripture: Acts 26:1-23

Key verse: (26:1) Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began to defend himself.”

Reflection: Paul was arrested for proclaiming the gospel and was brought to trial before the Roman King Agrippa. Today’s passage is Paul’s defense speech. I am amazed by how Paul defends himself. He doesn’t attack his accusers. He doesn’t call them names, question their integrity, or demean them with accusations. (Hasn’t Paul listened to the pundits on TV? He isn’t doing this correctly!)

Instead Paul tells his story. He shares his own testimony about who he was and how he was transformed by a gracious encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul explains that he was a faithful Jew who participated in the persecution of the saints. He identifies with his critics who are now among the persecutors. Then Paul  shares his conversion story, when he was blinded by a divine light and heard Jesus speak to him. That experience transformed Paul into a new creation, a person who believed and followed Jesus Christ, a missionary of the gospel who shared the good news about Jesus with “both small and great” (v. 22).

What’s your story? Maybe you didn’t have a dramatic conversation experience like Paul did, but you still have a story of how you have known God’s grace to be real and transforming in your life. Will you share your story? When Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his followers that they would be witnesses. I think sometimes we mistake our role to be judges or critics or angry defenders. We, like Paul, are called to be witnesses and to tell our story. Our story will be good news to those who have ears to hear.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for your power at work in my life. Give me ears to hear you and eyes to see you so that I can be a faithful witness to your gracious love.  Help me to tell my story. Through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, 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].

Friday August 21 2015

130801-dailydevovisuals-friScripture: Mark12:35-44

Key verses: (41-44) “He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Reflection: What was the widow thinking as she walked up to put her coins in the treasury? The leaders marginalize widows and even take their homes yet she continues to be faithful. I might want to make a dramatic statement by withholding my coins or saying something when I put those coins in treasury!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to this common reaction we have as “cheap grace” where grace is merely a doctrine.  Grace without a cost to the person covered by it is not grace at all but a nod to the idea of grace. The widow understands what costly grace is all about. It requires us to give everything; our last dime, our last ounce of energy, our last drop of compassion to anyone who is in need. She did what was required.

As hard as it is, we must seek to emulate the faithfulness of the widow. I believe she understood that she is a powerful witness against the cheap grace that the leaders of her day were perpetuating. We can follow her example and continue to be powerful witnesses to God’s costly grace as we seek to make the church more welcoming and inclusive. The widow kept coming and giving, coming and giving, week after week, day after day.   In our faithfulness, we can once again make costly grace the only desirable kind.

Prayer: Loving God, you call me to put my trust in you, stepping out in faith. Help me put aside my need to be right and to get more. May I do what is required. In the name of Christ, 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 August 20 2015

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Scripture: Mark 12:28–34

Key verse: (29-31) Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Reflection: What’s your elevator pitch? How would you distill all that’s important to you in 20-30 seconds — the time it takes to make a short elevator ride? That’s all the time you have to respond to the person who knows you are a Christian and, just as you step on the elevator, says, “What is the bottom line of Christianity?”

Fortunately you’ve been studying the Bible and remember the answer given to the scribe that came to Jesus one day with the challenge: “Which commandment (of all the 613 in the Law of Moses) is the first of all?” So you are prepared.

Taking a steadying breath you reply, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength AND love your neighbor as yourself.” You smile. Your companion smiles. The elevator dings. The doors open. Your companion steps out. You breathe a sigh of relief at having provided a good answer to a difficult question.

Your companion turns to look back at you and says, “But what does that mean?”

Prayer: O Lord, our God, you have told us how you want us to live. Help us, in the minutes and hours of daily living, not only to hear what you say to us, but also to live it out in all that we are and all that we do. In Jesus’ name we pray. 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 August 19 2015

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Scripture: Mark 12:13-27

Key verses: (24-27) Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

Reflection: Trying to trick Jesus, the Sadducees ask him a question about marriage and the resurrection. An old Jewish law (from Deuteronomy 25:5-10, and Genesis 38:8) stated that a brother should marry his brother’s childless widow, and count any future children born as his brother’s. If this happened seven times to the same widow, whose wife would the woman be in the resurrection? The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they hoped to trick Jesus into pointing out the ridiculous nature of this scenario.

Jesus responds in two ways. First, he clarifies what is meant by “resurrection.” It isn’t some new enactment of our earthly life, with the same kinds of bodies and relationships, just after death. It is a wholly different kind of transformed life. They have the terminology and definition wrong from the start, so their understanding of what resurrection means will be flawed.

Secondly, Jesus does a little teaching on biblical interpretation. The Sadducees point out an ancient and accepted practice based on scripture. He reminds them of another part of scripture that adds nuance to the argument. When God says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” naming long-dead ancestors, God shows intention to be the God of the living: those in the present age, and in the age to come, when the patriarchs and others will be resurrected.

We could focus on the question of the resurrection and its implication for us, but I am interested today in how Jesus uses scripture. He asks that we make sure our terms are defined accurately. He also shows us that one part of scripture can speak to another part. Most importantly, perhaps, we should note that this text is immediately followed by Jesus being asked which commandment is the greatest. Maybe you remember his answer, essentially: love God, and love your neighbor (Mark 12: 29-31.) When we talk to one another about God’s intentions, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord of the living and of the dead, I do not understand it all. I don’t understand death, or resurrection, or life in all its complexities, or all of what I read in scripture. But I want to love you, and my neighbor. Help me do that today. In Jesus’ 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 August 18 2015

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Scripture: Mark 12:1-12

Key verse: (7) “‘This is the heir;  come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’”

Reflection: You likely remember Marshall Philippe Pétain, who was the president of the Vichy Regime in France during World War II.  Technically, the government Marshall Pétain headed was independent. In reality, it was in place at the will of Nazi Germany and collaborated with Germany so that through it the Nazis controlled France.

In Jesus day, a similar arrangement was in place in Judea and Jerusalem. The Jewish Temple rulers, the chief priests, scribes and elders, technically ruled the religious establishment and the society.  In fact they collaborated with the Rome and did Rome’s bidding in Judea. They did this for by this arrangement they were able to “keep” what they thought was theirs – the Temple and authority over all religious matters.  So rightly, they saw Jesus as a threat to what they considered was their realm.

Thus, Jesus told them this parable of the vineyard.  Notice in the parable: Who owns the whole vineyard? Why are all the emissaries of the vineyard owner beaten, sent away, even killed? Finally, when the owner sends his beloved son, what do the tenants assume will happen if they kill that son?

The tenants assumed the vineyard was theirs. To keep it, they were prepared to do anything it took to do so.  But was the vineyard ever theirs?  Did they ever ask themselves, For whom am I in charge?

In “our” church, in “our” country, with “our” time, with “our” money, are we like the tenants – always assuming it is all ours, all solely under our control. Do we spurn and send away anyone who disputes that assumption? Or do we instead know, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof!” (Ps. 24:1) And know that the question before us in every aspect of our lives is always, “For whom am I in charge?”

Prayer:  Holy One, “We give thee but thine own, whatever the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.” [1] Amen.

Author: Pete Peery

[1] “We Give Thee But thin Own,”  William Walsham How, circa 1858, Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

[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].