Friday October 30 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30

Key verse: (29) But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”

Reflection: I love to weed! I know you can spray weeds but it’s so much more pleasurable to physically work in the yard and pull them out. I think maybe I love pulling the actual weeds in my lawn because I’m aware that Jesus cautions against spiritual weed-pulling.

In this parable Jesus describes a person who sows good seed in the field but, while everyone is asleep, an enemy comes and sows weed seeds in the same field. The good plants sprout and grow, and the weeds sprout and grow along with them.  Good and bad plants are mixed together in the field. When the slaves ask about gathering the weeds, the master responds with our key verse above. You can’t gather the weeds without endangering the good plants as well.

This is a spiritual truth on many levels. The church is full of both good plants and weeds. That’s true for our own congregation, for our denomination, and for the church universal.  And I’m not always sure I can identify clearly which is which!  I’m a pretty mixed field myself. Often my very best traits are also my worst faults. A poet used the word “mixed-bagness” to describe humans. We are all a jumble of good and bad together.  If we remember, we will treat one another with grace and leave the weeding to God. In the meantime, I’ll just deal with the crabgrass and the dandelions in my yard and give thanks for God’s mercy to let my spiritual field grow.

Prayer: Dear Lord, we are tempted to judge one another harshly. We are tempted to find fault easily and to cast blame quickly. Forgive us. Transform us by your grace so we will treat one another graciously. Through Christ our Lord we 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].

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Thursday October 29 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 13:18-23

Key verses: (15-16) 15 “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ 16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

Reflection: This materialistic and consumer-driven culture chokes life out of us so much that it is almost impossible for God’s Word to bear much fruit through us. This parable can give us more realistic vision of the contexts, or soils, in which we try to live our lives in faith.

It is not easy to be a person of faith.  The struggle sometimes is so intense that our hearts grow dull to good news.  This parable gives us hope.  With God’s help, we can survive, grow and produce faithfully.

How do we respond to the Word of God? What is our role as a steward of God’s word? We have to take an honest look at how we respond to it in every corner of our lives.  Jesus not only taught us about stewardship but he was the example of how to live a faithful life.  He cared for all of God’s children. Reaching out to those on the fringes of society—the poor, the sick, the women and those that were lost—Jesus responded. Jesus was a good steward of the God-given gifts of teaching, preaching and healing. He pointed others to the kingdom of God, lifting up the mystery of God.  Open your eyes and see the kingdom of God all around, with clear vision, hearts that are alive and hands ready to serve.

Prayer: Holy God, out of love you call me to live and love with a depth that seems beyond my comfort and sometimes my ability. Fill my heart with your love and a passion to allow your Holy Word to be my guide. 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].

Wednesday October 28 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11

Key verses: (1-3) “Praise the Lord!  How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.”

Reflection:  Anyone watching the news these days would wonder if God still cares for Jerusalem. We see images of stabbings, shootings, riots, hate speech, all giving visible evidence to the intractable conflict that has plagued the city in recent generations.

Jerusalem has always had a special place in the biblical story, especially since David was made king over 3,000 years ago.  The psalmist offers a psalm of praise, giving thanks for God’s protection and compassion toward Jerusalem so long ago. Since then the city has gone through waves of triumph and desolation. Other empires have conquered it and shaped it in their image. Today it is being fought over by diverse and competing factions.

Will there ever again be peace in Jerusalem? Right now it’s hard to imagine. It’s hard to find signs of hope. But they are there if you look. In Ibillin where Father Elias Chacour founded the Mar Elias schools, students from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druse faith traditions live and study side by side, offering visible evidence that conflict between traditions is not inevitable. In Jerusalem, younger Israelis and Palestinians join energy and effort to protest systems and structures that demonize and marginalize others. Conflict is not the last word.

The psalmist says, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”

The fear (respect) of the Lord and the conviction that God’s steadfast love is for everyone — even our enemies — is the beginning of hope. Pray that people of hope, from whatever religious tradition, may become agents for change, agents of peace.

Prayer: We pray for peace in Jerusalem, Lord.  We pray for all those who do the work of peacemaking. We pray for those whose hate seems stronger than the glimpses of love we can see. We pray for those so discouraged after so many setbacks.  Help us all to hold onto your steadfast love as our only hope for peace among neighbors. In the name of the Holy One who built up Jerusalem 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].

Tuesday October 27 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9

Key verses: (3-9) 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”

Reflection: In our Weekday School Faith Development classes we use a method of Bible storytelling called Godly Play. We invite the children to hear and explore Bible stories using beautiful hand-made materials, and to wonder about the stories. The parables are told in a particularly wonderful way. The pieces used to tell each parable are held in a gold box. The storyteller invites the children to think about how parables are like the gold box. The box looks valuable, and parables are valuable. The box looks old, and parables are old. The box looks a little like a present, and parables are a gift to us from God. You have to “open” a parable to see what’s inside, and you can come back again and again, and notice something different each time. The parables help us answer the question: What is the Kingdom of God like?

Jesus gave us the gift of the Parable of the Sower. The sower sows seeds on four kinds of soil. The seeds on the path got eaten by birds. Seeds sown among stones could not get their roots far enough in the ground to survive the sun’s rays, and they died. Seeds sown among thorns got choked, and died. But seeds sown in the good earth put down roots, and grew and grew. And the harvest was plentiful.

It’s a story. There was not an actual sower Jesus pointed to, who did all the things he described in front of people. The seeds and the soil stand for something else. But this old, old story is true, and valuable, and a gift. There is deep wisdom and lasting truth in it. It helps us as we try to live as kingdom people. Each time we come to this, or any other story Jesus told, we may see or hear something new in it. I wonder, as a Godly Play storyteller might ask the children: where are you in this story?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your parables. Help me come to them with wonder and openness as children come to a story. Help me listen and hear what you have to say to me. Help us all live as kingdom people. Prepare the soil of my own heart and life, so that I might be part of an abundant harvest for you. 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].

Monday October 26 2015

Monday

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-20

Key verses: (4-5) “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth”

Reflection: “Grace to you and peace…”  It is a salutation many Christians use today. I use it at the end of emails and letters I often send, “Grace and peace,” I say before I sign my name.

These words are easy to say for us. They send a kind and warm signal to the one receiving our message. However, these words were not always easy to say.

When John of Patmos wrote those words at the opening of his letter to the seven churches of Asia that we know as the book of Revelation, these words were incendiary. In his day, as one scholar reminds us, grace (prosperity), and peace (domestic tranquility) were gifts given solely by the emperor.  John, by using these words, “Unleashes…a shot across Caesar’s imperial bow.” (1) For John declares in no uncertain terms that “grace and peace” come not from the emperor but only from someone else — from God, God’s seven spirits (the Spirit filling the seven churches?), and from Jesus Christ.  What seems an innocuous greeting in a letter, John has turned into “a theological and political manifesto.”(1)

Today, as we consider the grace and the peace we enjoy, are we clear about from where they come?  Regardless of what we hear in the culture around us, grace (true prosperity), and peace, (genuine tranquility), come only from God, the God who has come to us in Jesus the Christ.  And since this God has “dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:6) this grace and peace can never be taken from us. We can count on that!

Prayer: Gracious God, the sole source of grace and peace, we give you thanks this day. Give us the will to live in the light of your grace and peace and share it with all whom we encounter. In the name of Jesus the Christ we pray.  Amen.

Author: Pete Peery

(1) Brian K. Blount, Revelation.  Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009, p. 34.

[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 23 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 88

Key verses: (13-14) “But I, O LORD, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. . . Why do you hide your face from me?”

Reflection: Have you ever been so low that you couldn’t see any way out? Have the circumstances of your life challenged you to the point of despair? Eventually, each one of us will face a struggle that feels like it is beyond our capacity to endure.  When that happens where will you turn?

Some people anesthetize themselves with work, alcohol and drugs. Some isolate themselves from others and build a wall around their pain. We know that some people choose to end their lives because they want relief. None of these things are good choices.

The Psalmist prays. He cries out to God and begs for mercy and salvation from the darkness that lies heavy upon him. He doubts God’s presence and feels like he is drowning. No answers come in this psalm. Life is like this sometimes. There are times when it feels like our prayers are hitting the ceiling and falling to the floor. We want relief, but it eludes us. We feel abandoned by God.

And  yet.  . . the psalmist doesn’t give up. He persists in his prayer. There is something therapeutic in saying what he is feeling. We can learn from this example. In the act of praying to God in our moments of deepest pain, we find strength and comfort. It’s alright to complain to God about what is happening to us, especially if we can’t make sense of our suffering. But, it’s been my observation that every prayer for help is followed by a waiting period. Relief doesn’t come right away – but it will come. So, I have taken great comfort in reading past Psalm 88 to the first line of Psalm 89 while I’m waiting.  It reminds me that God’s steadfast love endures forever – no matter what. 

Prayer:  O LORD, walk with us through our struggles. Give us the courage we need to ask for help in our time of need.  Remind us that even when it feels like you have abandoned us, nothing can separate us from your love. While we wait, help us cling to our faith. 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].

Thursday October 22 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 12:15-21

Key verse: (15) “ When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them,”

Reflection: To understand verse 15 you need to read verse 14.  When Jesus became aware of what?  Verse 14 reads, “ the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

So to recap: Jesus was healing on the Sabbath and got in trouble with the church authorities (when you read Pharisees know that is Bible talk for Presbyterian or Baptist or Episcopalian) and his response to such hatred was to depart (v 15).  This is the second time he’s done that in the Gospel of Matthew when confronted. The first time he departed was back in chapter nine.  Here’s the fun part though. When he departs it is not with his tail between his legs, rather, when we find him after departing, our stubborn Savior is still healing people! And still on the Sabbath!!  Some people just don’t know when to quit.

Jesus’ actions here could be taken as a license to be rebellious, to rail whenever we can against rules and authority (especially when we are in disagreement with that rule or authority). But is that what is happening here? Jesus spoke repeatedly of wanting to fulfill the law rather than abolish it. But what Jesus understood and explained to the teachers of the law (verses 1-14) was that the law was there for us, we are not here for the law. Jesus doesn’t seem to hesitate to break a law (in the authorities’ opinion) if it means not breaking a person.

The word doctrine is a dry and dusty church word, if I have ever heard one, but the origin of the word is also where we derive the word doctor. Doctrine comes from a word meaning to teach, to mend, to restore.  As I heard one Christian scholar put it “Doctrine is healing teaching.”

Jesus didn’t set out to challenge authority, he set out to heal, nourish, love and save this world that God so loves.

If it is that kind of love that is going to get us in trouble, then so be it.

Prayer: For Jesus’ desire to love and heal this world, we praise you, Lord. May we be quick to join and grateful to receive this ministry. 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].