Monday November 30 2015

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Scripture: Amos 2:6-16

Key verse: (6 – 7a) “Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals – they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.”

Reflection: Harsh words for the first day at work after a long Thanksgiving holiday.  Harsh words for the first Monday of Advent.  Perhaps you’ve decorated your Christmas tree already. Perhaps you are planning to bake cookies later today or take care of some cyber-Monday shopping deals.  And then your devotion rains down judgment.

Advent is a season of preparation, preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ.  Traditionally the season was focused on the second coming of Christ not the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.  The season calls us to spiritual scrutiny and examination. The prophet Amos seems to specialize in scrutiny and examination as he proclaims the Lord’s judgment on the nation of Israel. Apparently the people were mistreating the poor, taking advantage of their disadvantages, and exploiting their circumstances.  Things (like sandals) were more important than people.

As we journey through Advent together, let’s consider Amos’ harsh words. When we are in a hurry to get our holiday tasks completed, are we trampling over people in our way? When we are shopping, are we thinking only about what we want and not about the workers who made it and sell it to us? Sometimes, even when we are headed to worship, we are snarling at other drivers and yelling at the members of our families. What irony that we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ in ways that might not honor his way of abundant life.  Let’s consider the Way of Advent this year and make some simple commitments to prepare for Christ.

Prayer: Eternal God, through long generations you prepared a way for the coming of your Son, and by your Spirit you still bring light to illumine our paths. Renew us in faith and hope that we may welcome Christ to rule our thoughts and claim our love, as Lord of lords and King of kings, to whom be glory always.  Amen.  (prayer from Book of Common Worship, p. 173)

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 November 27 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 20:17-28

Key verses: (26b-28) “26b whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Reflection: Today, I got up early to head out for some Black Friday Shopping. I know it is crazy, but there is something fun about being in a crowd of people excited about Christmas. As we waited in line for our first store to open, we thought it would be funny if they let the back of the line go first! It would be funny, because I was in the middle…..I am not sure it would be funny if I were first.

In our scripture passage today, Jesus redirects our attention from the front of the line to the end, surprising us with who is found at both points. This reversal reminds us of the radical nature of the kingdom of God and of God’s grace.  Jesus challenges us to live out the actions as a servant, and there we will find all that we are seeking.

Accepting the invitation to the inclusive meaning of the kingdom is challenging. It may seem like an easy commitment to join in kingdom living.  We believe in the love, mercy, justice and grace of the kingdom. However, this also asks that we surrender our ego needs and live a life that is more selfless than selfish.  This is the hard work of being a disciple.

The “first shall be last” has nothing to do with lines or our consumer-driven world, and everything to do with loving and living with a servants’ heart.

 Prayer: God of reversals, hidden and revealed, first and last, beginning and end, guide me in my kingdom living. Strengthen me as I seek to be a servant to those around me, and the stranger whom I have yet to meet. May all glory and honor be yours, now and forever, 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 November 26 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 116

Key verses: (12-14) “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?  13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, 14 I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”

Reflection: On this day of Thanksgiving we give thanks as a country, as communities, as families, as individuals. We carve out some time to recognize and acknowledge our many blessings and to thank God for them. Compared to most citizens of this world our blessings are heaped up and running over. Even when we are facing challenges and are struggling with difficult circumstances it is still possible to find blessings for which we are grateful.

The psalmist was able to see God working in people’s lives as illness was overcome, tears were dried up and stumbling feet set firmly on the ground again. It was this kind of deliverance that prompted the rhetorical question: “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”  What, indeed? When our hearts and minds turn to thanksgiving, what can we offer to the Holy God? All we can do is raise our toast of gratitude and proclaim the faithfulness of God for all to hear.

Today, find a way to say aloud to someone else how God has blessed or is blessing you. Say out loud what you are thankful for. Give God credit for the all bounty with which God has blessed you.

Have a grateful and appreciative Thanksgiving!

Prayer: For all our many blessings, we give you thanks, O Lord! For life and living and each new day, we give you thanks. No gifts have we to offer for all your love imparts, but that which you desire of us—our humble, thankful hearts. 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 November 25 2015

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Scripture: 1 Peter 2:1-10

Key verses: (4-5, 9-10)

“4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

“9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Reflection: The apostle Peter wrote to Christian believers in Asia Minor, at a time in which they were regarded as outsiders by their social communities. They were subject to ridicule and persecution because their beliefs set them apart from others.  Peter offers them assurance that they are a chosen people, set apart to bring light into a dark world. He talks of “living stones,” building up a spiritual house. His words were written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The people of God had seen the stones of that holy dwelling place of God torn down and scattered. The temptation to despair was great. But the gospel of Jesus Christ asked more of those who followed him.

“Come to him,” Peter says, “and let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” The actual stones of the place of God are no longer in place. Now, the people of God must pick up the pieces and build what comes next. The foundation of that new building is Jesus himself, the cornerstone. Staying grounded in Jesus will enable the small band of believers to follow him and proclaim his “mighty acts” to those who still need to know him.

In a time when people find so many ways to spend their time other than worshiping and serving Christ, how can we hear Peter’s call today? Perhaps the call to come to Jesus is for us as well. Today, spend some time reflecting on him and how he is the cornerstone of your own life.

Prayer: Holy God, you have called me to be part of your holy people, and I am grateful. Equip me to be a living stone, helping to build up a spiritual house for you. Teach me your ways, 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 November 24 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 19:13-22

Key verses: (14,16) “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them;  for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ . . . Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’”

Reflection: Blessed now with seven grandchildren, one 8 year old, six more 4 years old and younger, my knowledge of the way of children is being refreshed in heaping doses.  One big learning is children take.  They don’t earn.  If I offer a hug, a toy, a trip to get ice cream, a story at bedtime, my grandchildren welcome it and just assume it is theirs to have.  They have absolutely no need to earn any of these things offered.

Yet as we grow something happens.

When I was in seminary the courses were taught on a pass/fail basis, no grades, just “pass” or “fail.” One professor began the first day of his class and announced to us all, “Everyone of you has passed this course.  Period.  That is done.  Now, let’s study together.”  For weeks thereafter there was dissent and resistance to the professor’s action.  Many of us chaffed at this decision to pass everyone in the class regardless.  We wanted to earn our own way to success.

Children, who take rather than earn, to them belong the kingdom, Jesus says.  The grown up who asks Jesus, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  ends up turning away.

How will we live this day?  Will it be like children receiving what God in Jesus the Christ freely gives us?  Or will we act as grown-ups and keep trying to earn our own way?

Prayer: Gracious God, in the baptismal waters you have made us yours forever.  Keep us from trying to earn your blessing this day and call us again to trust your salvation which is sure, in Jesus the Christ our Lord.  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].

Monday November 23 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verses: (1-3) “I will extol thee, my God and King, and bless thy name for ever and ever.  Every day I will bless thee, and praise thy name for ever and ever.  Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”

Reflection: Many scholars believe that today’s psalm may originally have been the final psalm in the Psalter.  The psalms that follow (146-150) are drawn from its focus on praise.  As one author has noted, it was the custom, in Jewish religious tradition to “repeat Psalm 145 as a way to confess the insufficiency of self and the sovereignty of God.”  This psalm reminds us that God is sovereign and the ultimate source of our salvation.  In the face of a world that is full of suffering and injustice, fear and confusion, God invites us to look to God as the source of our hope.   This kind of hope was very important for the nation of Israel as they emerged from a brutal exile.   It also has been very important to the Christian community over the centuries.  St. Augustine, a well-known saint of the church, quotes Psalm 145 at the beginning of his Confessions.  This is followed by his famous words:   “You stimulate (us) to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you.”  We are invited to live by “this great truth” and get to know God through praise.

You might not feel like praising God today.  That’s OK.   There may be some great challenge you are facing.  God may feel a million miles away.   Yet, there are still words of assurance and strength here that you can lean on.  Read through the Psalm again and hear God’s word for you.

 Prayer:  Gracious God, we give you praise for your relentless love.  You refuse to give up on us and constantly show us patience and mercy.  Help us to sing your praises in the good times and in the bad.  Show us how to put you at the center of our lives so that we might more fully live for 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].

Friday November 20 2015

130801-dailydevovisuals-friScripture: Psalm 88

Key verse: (10) “Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you?”

Reflection: There must have been textual ambiguity  for our NRSV, unlike other translations, does not record our psalmist saying in the opening verse “by day I cry for help; at night I cry in your presence.”  Maybe the NRSV  is just sparing us.  After all when someone asks on a Sunday morning,  “How are you?”  rarely, do we feel either the courage or invitation to say “by day I cry for help; at night I cry  because none came.”  But such is the welcome honesty of our 88th psalm.  The psalm is endless in its description of death, suffering, loss and ache.  For the psalmist, whatever they are afflicted with — and many interpret it as a terrible and unrelenting illness — it is without end.  Through many lens and metaphors there is one message: I am dying in deep darkness.   It is a tough psalm to start your day with but no doubt a psalm that resonates in the empty hearts of many around the world this moment.  The news cameras have moved on in their insatiable desire.  But those who endured acts of violence and disruption last week, last month, last year — endure them still.   How many understandably echo the psalmist in confessing that “darkness is their companion?”

When our psalm ends nothing is resolved, nothing restored, nothing redeemed.  To die is to be cut off from God, to descend into depths of darkness.  Verse 10 in the psalm poses a question that takes a very long time to be answered.  No wonder the early church cherished so much, even more than the cross, the image of Jesus descending to the dead.  The harrowing of hell, the bringing of light to darkness and life to death, is an image to be celebrated and proclaimed.  There was unbridled joy when God’s Easter people discovered that there was another ending or another way of beginning, yet unseen and unknown to our psalmist.

We are called to sit in the darkness sometimes, usually longer than we ever want to.  But how else will we recognize light when it shines?

Prayer: Light of the world, come to this weary, wounded world and call us again by our proper name: children of light. 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].

Thursday November 19 2015

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Scripture: Revelation 21:22-22:5

Key verse: (22:5)” And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord god will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Reflection: Read through the entire passage (it’s not long and won’t take a lot of time) and notice how many things aren’t included in this vision of heaven.  Pay attention to the “nos’ and the “nots” and the “nevers.”

There will be no temple.  We won’t need a dedicated place set apart for worship because all of life will be worship.  We won’t need a holy place for God’s presence because we will know that God is with us always, everywhere.

The gates will never be shut. The heavenly city will be open and accessible for anyone who chooses to enter. Open gates are also a sign of peace and security.  There is no need to close the gates if there is no fear of enemies or predators.  Nothing unclean will enter the city. Nothing evil or dirty or accursed will enter the city.

And there will be no sun or moon or lamps because God’s glory will shine brightly all the time there. Everyone will see God’s face and God will be their light.

Imagine this vision of God’s kingdom. Now when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” let’s think about what we need to do now to make our world more like this heavenly vision.  A kingdom of peace, security, safety, full of goodness and the certainty of God’s presence.

Prayer: Almighty God, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give me a vision of your kingdom and inspire me to live that vision now. Deepen my trust in you.  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].

Wednesday November 18 2015

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Scripture: Rev. 21:9-21

Key verse: (10-11) 10″And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 11It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.”

Reflection: Revelation’s glorious vision of a new heaven and a new earth renews hope for our future. We need a new Jerusalem. We need the trees of life and a healing for the nations. These glimpses of a renewed earth can inspire and motivate us. We need this vision that paints the picture of a multicultural welcome. At a time when death and destruction are all around us, we need a reminder of our hope in God.

This week, when our fear compels us to secure ourselves against outsiders, the church can claim Revelation’s vision of openness.  This vision is hard work and despair cannot be the last word. We have to trust that God is at work renewing and redeeming creation and join God in the work of redemption.

If the city represents the people of God, then we are the new Jerusalem. We are the kingdom of God.  That does not mean we sit by in fear.  We have to join God in this work as agents of change that refuse to settle for a choice between the bad and the worst. Here John invites us to explore ways to understand our reign not as domination over, but as sharing in God’s healing of the world.

Prayer: (This prayer was printed in the Presbyterian Outlook this weekend after the attacks in Paris, written by Jill Duffield.)

How long, O Lord?
How long until we see in each other your image and respond with joy rather than fear?
How long until we understand the depth of your love for all of creation and allow that love to overflow into our every thought and action?
How long until religion unites instead of divides?
How long until we live out of your promised abundance rather than being anxious of scarcity?
How long until our urges to follow you in the ways of peace and justice and mercy and loving kindness are heeded instead of suppressed?

O, Lord, help us. Make of us salt and light. Make us courageous peacemakers. As we look for the helpers make us the helpers others look to for hope. Do not let us bow our heads in despair without then looking out into a hurting world and entering it to share the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hear us as we pray for people all over the world who are the victims of violence, war, terror and hate.

May our shock and pain be turned into actions that help to heal.

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 November 17 2015

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Scripture: Rev. 21:1–8

Key verses: (1-2) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Reflection: The book of Revelation provides us with a glimpse of how things will turn out at the end of time.  That time will be the fulfillment of the plea we make each time we say the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. In Revelation, at the end of this age, God’s kingdom (and God’s will) is established here on earth, where we live.

Throughout much of Christian history, however, we have used the language of going up to heaven when we die. At the end of life, we imagine, we will leave this place, going up into heaven where we’ll be with God. Heaven is up there. We leave this earth to get there.

But the visual image in Revelation is quite the opposite. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. But the new reality will not be up in heaven. The new reality will be heaven—the new Jerusalem—coming down to earth. We don’t go up to be with God. God comes down and resides with us! God will dwell with us and will make all things new.

In this new earth God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

In the end God will complete what God began in the Garden of Eden—the creation of a place where humans live in peace with each other and with God.

That is what awaits us at the end—a new heaven and a new, God-filled earth.

Prayer: Father in heaven, how great is your name! May your kingdom come among us. May your will be done among us—here and now on earth—as it already is in heaven. We pray in the name of the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. 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].