Wednesday September 30 2015

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8: 12

Key Verse: (12) But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Reflection: One Christmas, my brother and I got boxing gloves. I loved it! He is younger than I am but has always been bigger and we compete at everything. Boxing was a way my dad encouraged us to work out our aggression. My mother always said, “It is all fun and games, until someone gets hurt. “  She had to say that a lot in our house growing up…..and every summer when we get together with our own children. We are still competitive. We compete at spades, banagrams and even in our arguments. We like it when there are right and wrong answers and when there are winners and losers.  Don’t most of us?

But when we insist on being right, it is our relationships that suffer, especially family. There is more to consider than always being right. This might be at the heart of the problems of the church in Corinth. Yes, they struggled with different traditions but for Paul relationships matter most. God is God of all of us and the basis of our identity in Jesus Christ.

The issue is always relationships, seen in the context of God’s will of wholeness for all of God’s people. It can never just be about being right or winning.

Prayer: God,

Show me the love in the center of my brothers and sisters.

Show me the love in the center of myself.

Show me the love in the center of this world.

In the name of Jesus, 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].

Tuesday September 29 2015

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Scripture: Matt. 7:1–12

Key verse: (12) In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Reflection: There are many reasons to obey the rules. You’ll be punished if you don’t. You’ll get a reward if you do. It’s what we do in this family. It’s what we have contracted to do as a society. It is simply the right thing to do.

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount we learn the motivation for all who would seek to be followers of Jesus. Here at the end of this Sermon we see the law and the prophets in a new context.

The Golden Rule puts moral and ethical behavior, the social dimensions of the Gospel, in the context of life under the influence of God’s values and purposes. We treat others with love and respect because that’s the way we have been treated by God. The indiscriminate love we are called to apply to everyone mirrors the expansive, forgiving, redeeming love we have received from God.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you—not because you have to—but because you know what it is like to be loved, respected, honored, affirmed, valued, and cherished. You know what it is like to be treated as a treasured child of God. That’s the way you should treat others.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simple. Concise. Direct.

Prayer: We know what to do, O God. We know how we like to be treated. Help us take the next step: treating others in the same way. Love us until love becomes who we are and what we do. In the name of the master teacher, Jesus. 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].

Monday September 28 2015

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 145

Key Verses: (10-13): 10  All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
11  They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
12  to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13  Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

Reflection: Psalm 145 is an affirmation of praise to God. The Psalmist proclaims, over and over, that God is faithful, gracious, just, and holds up all who are falling. He says in verse 2: “Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.” And not just the Psalmist alone: “all the faithful” shall bless the Lord, speaking of God’s glory and power, and making known God’s deeds.

Sometimes we shy away from speaking of God’s wondrous deeds and love out loud. We don’t want to be preachy, or to offend. We might say or sing words of praise in Sunday worship, or lift up silent prayers of praise on our own. But do we speak aloud, and share with others that praise of God at other times? We might worry that friends and family and neighbors don’t know the amazing grace offered to us in Jesus Christ. But are we sharing our experience of it with them, out loud? The Psalmist calls us to join a chorus of unending praise of God. Generations speak praise to one another, and in so doing, show God’s love to others, providing them the opportunity to, in turn, praise God.

With whom will you praise God today?

Prayer: Wondrous God, I give you all praise and thanksgiving. You shower me with love and grace. Help me to open my mouth and proclaim it out loud today. 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].

Friday September 25 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 6:7-15

Key Verses: (12,14) “. . . forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” “. . . if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Reflection: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us how to pray. To this day, every Sunday as we are gathered in worship we use his template for prayer. Yet, have we read on in his teaching beyond the model prayer he shares to his word about forgiveness that occurs in verses 14 and 15?  It is a bit foreboding isn’t it. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

What if we do not forgive others? Notice in the Lord’s Prayer itself that qualifying petition Jesus teaches us to make as we ask for forgiveness — “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

William Barclay, the late Scottish New Testament scholar, shares a story of Robert Louis Stevenson. “When Stevenson lived in the South Sea Islands he used always to conduct family worship in the mornings for his household. It always concluded with the Lord’s Prayer. One morning in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer he rose from his knees and left the room. His health was always precarious, and his wife followed him thinking that he was ill. ‘Is there anything wrong?’ she said.  ‘Only this,’ said Stevenson, ‘I am not fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer today.’”[1]

Some Sundays, should we get up in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer and go tend to some unfinished business of forgiving others before returning to finish the Prayer?

Prayer: Lord, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  Amen.

Author: Pete Peery

[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]

[1] Barclay, Wm. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Revised Edition, The S=Daily Study Bible Series, Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1975, pp. 222-3.

Thursday September 24 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Key verses: (4,18) “ . . . and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Reflection: I love the Sermon on the Mount – now. When I was a young Christian I wanted to use these chapters in the Gospel as a kind of guide to Christian living. I was challenged over and over again. There were times when I thought “I can’t do any of this!” So, I didn’t. I laid these teachings aside and told myself I would get back to them later. In those days, I wanted to read and study the more inspirational passages of scripture – the ones that made me feel good. Eventually, though, I couldn’t avoid these teachings so I made my way through them with the hope of discovering  another way of living in the world.

Soon I discovered that the biggest temptation I faced was being too proud of being pious. I struggled with spiritual pride. I wanted people to know that I worshipped regularly, that I gave to the ministry of the church, and that I prayed and fasted as a spiritual discipline. I was very proud of myself and I desired  to be commended by others. Soon I learned the folly of this endeavor and I was convicted by the scripture passages that I had avoided studying for so long.

Jesus warns us in today’s text to be careful about practicing our piety before others in order to get praise and admiration. If we brag about our giving or show off in our prayers or look dismal when we give up something for God, we will get a reward.   But, it may be a different reward than we think! Jesus reminds us to keep our piety to ourselves and God will see our devotion. There is no need to show off for others. If we show off and get praise from others, we will receive an earthly reward, but we will have no reward from God. Our motives for cultivating piety are important.

The reward of spiritual practices is in the experience of the deep and abiding presence of God through friendship with Jesus Christ. Read these verses, draw near to God and see what God so generously wants to give you.

Prayer: Loving God, help us to let down our defenses and draw closer to you. Teach us how to give, to pray and to fast. Mold and shape us into the people we are meant to be. Keep us from bragging about our spiritual achievements and focus on drawing near to you. Thank you for the blessing of your presence and peace. 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].

Wednesday September 23 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

Key verse: (48) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Reflection: Evagarius came up with eight of them and later Pope Gregory the Great condensed the list to seven. The list was the Deadly Sins, transgressions that hurt your spiritual life and relationship with others. Pride was considered the chief sin (how like pride to top the list) followed by envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth (how like sloth to be last). While this list is one to be avoided, it is yet so much easier to name than the seven Heavenly Virtues. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

(Faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence. Points if you could do this, I had to Google for what came after charity). While these lists are not found in the Bible they certainly are biblically based and commendable for their desire to see us grow in every good thing and to reject those things that will only stifle and suffocate us.

In James Conner’s engaging book on prayer and meditation Silent Fire he describes the deadly sins as baby sins. When a baby is hungry they do not care if you are busy, they will cry and be impatient and angry until you direct all your attention to them and feed them to their heart’s content. Afterwards, they love nothing better than a big belch, a long nap and the hopes of doing the same thing all over again. Though St. Augustine thought these actions made children ‘reprehensible” (Confessions p. 8) it only makes children what they are: children. Parents delight in the sounds of a happy baby and respond with love to the sounds of an unhappy baby. What makes the deadly sins baby sins however, is when the child grows into adulthood and does not leave childish ways behind. When we are grown but not mature we are destructive to ourselves and others.

Far from it being an impossible command it is a welcome invitation Jesus makes in the Gospel passage today. The word perfect is better translated mature or whole. ‘Grow up’ Jesus is saying and grow in to the mature, full, disciplined and gifted person that God created you to be.  Every day we grow older but we can miss the opportunity to grow up and grow in to the image of God. With God’s help, may it not be so for us.

Prayer:   Lord in whose image I am made, let me do all things today with grace and maturity, patience and wisdom. I will need your help.  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]

Tuesday September 22 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 5:27-37

Key verses: (27-28) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Reflection: What is sin? We might answer that question with a list of behaviors, things we do that we know are wrong. We might move deeper to include the sins of omission, things we know we should do but we don’t do. In today’s passage Jesus moves even deeper to include our thoughts, our motivations, and our inner life. Sin isn’t just about what we do or don’t do; it’s also about what we think and feel.

If that’s the case, then this teaching from Jesus teaches us that we are all sinners. We are all in need of forgiveness and grace. We are all called to follow Jesus, not because we are worthy but because he is gracious and he includes us.

Today’s key verses are about adultery and lust. Our culture has begun to teach that sexual behavior is purely about physical pleasure and is a morally neutral act between consenting adults. Promiscuous behavior is rampant in the movies and on television. Pornography is an addiction that has trapped many people and destroyed many relationships.

Our faith teaches that sexual behavior is God’s gift to humanity as a life-affirming part of monogamous covenantal relationships. We are grateful for the gift of sexual desire and we seek God’s will for our sexual actions and our sexual thoughts and motivations. It’s not just what we do.  It’s also what we think and we feel.

Prayer: Heavenly Creator, you made me in your image.Thank you for the gift of my body and for bodily pleasures. Teach me to honor you with my body and to seek your will for my bodily pleasure. Through Christ 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].

Monday September 21 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26

Key verse: (21) You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, Do not Murder.

Reflection: Have you ever walked into a room and felt the tension? This scripture takes us right onto that mountainside and we join the crowds listening to Jesus after they have heard the Beatitudes. You could cut the tension with a knife!  Some felt he was not being bold enough and others wanted him to be a bit more traditional, following the rules. Jesus proposes a third way which challenges everyone. Even those of us who read the sermon years later know that Jesus is going to call us to task and it feels uncomfortable.

Jesus starts with “Don’t Murder”. He has the take a step back from murder and deal with the anger. This third way takes another step back to deal with the name-calling that provokes that anger. If that were not enough, Jesus asked them to engage in preventative reconciliation. It is not about who is at fault or who is right. It is about being in right relationship. We could avoid a whole chain reaction of offence and revenge if we considered each other. A third way. A better way.

Jesus goes on to deal with four other issues, head on. In each one, he offers a third way to consider the issue. A better way. All of them encouraging people to move forward together. What is so hard about that?

Prayer: God, there is so much insanity, darkness and fear in the world today. May your great love encompass us and peace be our guide. In the name of Jesus. 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 September 18 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 5:11–16

Key verses: (13a, 14a) You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.

Reflection: After Jesus gave the disciples the nine beatitudes — God’s blessings on particular individual behaviors and on certain social actions — he gave them their mission to transform the world. Not only were they to behave in specific ways, they were to demonstrate that new way of life so that other might see and be changed.

Our Presbyterian constitution says it this way: the Church seeks a new openness in its own membership, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, ethnicities, and worldly conditions, made one in Christ by the power of the Spirit, as a visible sign of the new humanity.

Both salt and light change things. Salt changes flavor, preserves quality. Light brings warmth and illumination into the world’s deep darkness. The Beatitudes are not just feel-good instructions for religious living, they are a way to live that shows the world what the new humanity promised in Christ actually looks like.

You are it. You are what Jesus is counting on make his Church visible to a needy world. You are the salt. You are the light.

Daunting, isn’t it? It’s a good thing God is with us or we might lose our flavor or hide our light under a bushel.

Prayer: Save us, O Lord, from flavorings that are flat and useless and from lights that no one can see. Instead, let our life be a visible sign of the new humanity that is possible, in you. In the name of Jesus the Christ 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].

Thursday September 17 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 5:1-10

Key verses: (1-10) When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Reflection: These verses, the Beatitudes, are so familiar to some of us that I think we don’t really hear them anymore. They sound nice, and comforting, and churchy, and they wash over us agreeably. Of course the poor in spirit should be blessed. Certainly we want those who mourn to be comforted. We might not be sure who the meek are, but it is probably okay if they inherit the earth. And I want to live in a world where the hungry are fed and the thirsty are filled, where the merciful receive mercy, where the persecuted are rewarded, and where the pure in heart and peacemakers get close to God — don’t you?

Today I read these words just after reading that our nation will receive at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. That number will likely rise as other nations struggle with the overwhelming numbers of people fleeing war and violence in that region. Can you see the faces of refugees in the beatitudes? What is our Christian response in the face of polarizing political views on immigration, and in light of these words from Jesus? What is Jesus telling us to do?

Our Bible contains the living word of God. These long ago words from Jesus were not just for that one day, on that one mountaintop. They are for Christians today — on the Syrian border, in the Budapest train station, in the corridors of the White House, and wherever you, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, are reading the words right now. We interpret these, and all words from Scripture, not only through the lens of long centuries of biblical scholarship, but in the face of new historic events and challenges in the news today. They inform our decisions and opinions as citizens of our nation, and of the world. May we be bold to claim the promises of God for our new neighbors.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to see all people as your children. Teach me to understand your living word today. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen

Note: For more information on the PCUSA response to the Syrian refugee crisis, see http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/

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].