Monday February 29 2016

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 121

Key verse: (1) “I lift up my eyes…”

Reflection: When I came back to Christian faith as a young adult, I was certain that if I prayed regularly and was devoted to God through acts of service that nothing bad would happen to me. I felt protected by God’s love, mercy and sovereignty. However, I quickly began to see that bad things happened to good people on a fairly regular basis. At first I was judgmental saying to myself: “if only they prayed more this wouldn’t have happened.” But, then I realized that good and faithful people — stronger Christians than I — suffered under all kinds of circumstances, not of their own making. For years I struggled with the dilemma of a good God and human suffering. My faith was challenged and I discovered there was no easy answer. God couldn’t be explained using a simple formula of cause and effect. Through this struggle, I became more and more aware of how God is present with us, especially during the challenging times. In fact, God is present even when we aren’t aware. Many would argue that God then isn’t good and certainly not powerful. And yet, every person of faith that I have known finds, on a deep, soulful level, that God is with them, giving them a sense of peace and even healing whether they live or die.

I begin every funeral I conduct with the opening words of Psalm 121. It is a reminder to lift our eyes above our distress to God who is present with us in life and in death. It is a reminder that as we walk through the ups and downs of life we can’t get away from the LORD. The creator of the heavens and the earth is awake and knows what we are going through. In the sunlight or in the shade, the LORD is there. In the times of struggle and times of ease, the LORD is there. Even though evil might surround us in the form of oppression, war or disease, the LORD is there. We belong to God. This won’t take away what we are going through, but it will transform our experiences and give us hope. Lift up your eyes.

Prayer: Merciful God, we give thanks that though we suffer in life, nothing can separate us from you. Our bodies will fail, our relationships may fall apart, our hearts may be broken but you remain with us forever. Hold us in your loving arms and help us experience the peace only you can give. 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 February 26 2016

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Scripture: I Corinthians 7:1-9

Key verses: (8-9) To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

Reflection: “I am a great lover” I once heard a Sister of Mercy announce as she explained to an audience how she was able to live a celibate life.  It wasn’t because she did not understand love and desire, quite the opposite she declared, but for her love and desire were expressed and fuelled by channeling them in to service to and prayer for God’s people.

In our many discussions on marriage we lose sight that according to Paul, the New Testament approach to marriage is: don’t do it!  Unless you are a Da Vinci Code enthusiast, Jesus wasn’t married and Paul didn’t marry either.  Despite his wonderful hymn of love quoted at so many of our weddings, Paul it appears was not the romantic, marrying kind. Maybe he just was not inclined that way, who knows.  He does have a rather curious view suggesting that we not marry unless we are aflame with passion (because marriage will cure that Paul?!).

It’s a rather low view of marriage Paul offers, leaning heavily on the practical: Marry or don’t marry just don’t lose sight of Jesus.

Paul is sure that he knows what is best and how to live a Godly life if you are single — (which is what the Greek word translated as widow here implies) be celibate and don’t ever marry.  Interesting though and almost unexpected that he is prepared to make concessions, to allow room for others who are not able to live as he is.  There is a generous orthodoxy to Paul’s theology. He makes room for followers of Christ who are doing their best but have different results and different ideas of how they will live in their bodies as they faithfully follow Christ.  What is not optional for Paul is a passion for Christ and living a life that as he so often describes as one that prays without ceasing, let’s its gentleness be known by all, holds fast to all that is good, renounces evil and worries about nothing for the Lord is near.

Prayer: From Teresa of Avila, passionate follower of Jesus and a lover of God: It is not a matter of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal, so do whatever arouses you most to love. 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 February 25 2016

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Scripture: Mark 4:21-34

Key verses: (24-25) And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Reflection: Mark 4:25 is often taken out of context and misused. Here’s a clue – it isn’t about money at all!  And it isn’t about material possessions in any way.  That’s why it’s important to read the entire passage and to understand this verse in its context.

Earlier in this chapter Jesus begins teaching his disciples.  They were his closest friends and the “insiders” among those who followed him and tried to learn his way.  In the midst of this teaching Jesus tells his disciples to pay attention. “The measure you give will be the measure you get.”  More or less, with discipleship, like many other things, what you put into it will determine how much you get out of it.  If you want greater faith, pay attention and put in a good measure.

The spiritual disciplines of discipleship are the tools we have to help ourselves pay attention to Christ.  In this season of Lent, how are you paying attention to Christ? If you give your attention, your time and your energy, you will find yourself with even more.  You will be closer to Christ as we journey together toward Easter.

Prayer: I pray, O God, that you would reveal yourself to me today.  Show me where you are at work in my world.  Help me to pay attention so that I hear your call and learn your way.  In the name of Jesus 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 February 24 2016

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Scripture: Mark 4:1-20

Key verse: (9) And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Reflection: Our sermon series during Lent,“Disturbing Discipleship,” could certainly include the parable of the sower.  Parables are meant to provoke, confront and disturb.  There are some theologians like New Testament scholar, Amy Jill Levine, that suggest that we might be better off  thinking less about what the parables mean and more about what they do.  In her book, Short Stories by Jesus, Levine challenges us to stop with the easy lessons and engage the parables the way Jesus intended.  The parable invites us to see the world in a different way and challenges our faith.

Jesus said, “let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Listening is a very important element in our relationship with God. In the Gospel listening involves hearing, understanding and assimilating the message into one’s own thinking.  Then we act, if we choose. This is the freedom that comes with following Jesus.

We could spend all day on what chokes our faith or how deep are our roots.  However, we can jump to the disturbing challenge of this parable, that God’s Kingdom is going ahead and there is going to be a great harvest.  Are we going to be part of it?

This is the long awaited restoration of God’s people. Jesus is inviting us to be part of the Kingdom and part of kingdom living.  Are you joining us?

Prayer: God, during this season of Lenten reflection continue to provoke, disturb and challenge my faith. Invite me into the way of kingdom living and loving. 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 February 23 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 146

Key verses: (3-7) Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. 4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. 5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.

Reflection: As I write this our country is engaged in the quadrennial ritual of nominating candidates to run for President of the United States.  We are asked daily, to the tune of millions of dollars of advertising, to “put our trust in princes” — particular princes. As we live through challenging times in the economy and to our security we are more and more inclined to put our trust in princes who say, “trust me and everything will be better.”  Political parties may have different diagnoses of what ails us, but the solution is the same — elect (i.e. put your trust in) our candidate and all will be well.

This is not a new approach.  The Psalmist knew that’s how people are. When our world is unsettled we look for someone who will promise security and well-being.  But the Psalmist also knew, as we can see today, princes are mortal. When they die their great plans perish and they are replaced by another.

Don’t trust in in the transient, says the Psalmist. Trust in the one who is eternal — the God who made heaven and earth. The Psalmist goes on to say that this eternal God, in whom we can put our trust, always has compassion and love for those most in need.  That God cares about justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, support for those bowed down, love for the righteous, protection for the strangers, care for orphans and widows, and justice for the wicked.

If that is the platform of the faithful God, in whom we can put our ultimate trust, then perhaps we have a guide for evaluating and choosing the mortal princes that clamor for our trust, even if for the short time we have to put our trust in them. Princes are temporary. God, and God’s compassion, is forever.

“The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.”

Prayer: Help us put our trust in you, O God. When we are anxious and afraid show us your steadfast love and compassion. Anchor our hope in you and what is important to you that we might find there our happiness and joy. In the name of the one who made the heaven and earth. 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 February 22 2016

Monday

Scripture: Genesis 41: 46-57

Key verses: (53-54) 53The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; 54and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread.

Reflection: The story of Joseph in Egypt is a remarkable tale of faith and trust and perseverance. You may remember that Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and his brothers were very jealous of him. The coat his father gave him to wear was a symbol of his favored status. The dreams he had (and shared freely) in which his brothers bowed down to him, put them over the edge. They sold him into slavery, and told his father he was dead.

Years pass, in which Joseph languishes in jail. Later, he is let out because he interprets the dreams of a paranoid Pharaoh. More troubles ensue. Joseph has a life of many dimensions, more than many of the biblical heroes we encounter. We hear of his ups and his downs, over long years. In this passage, he has risen to power through his predictions of famine and his wise counsel to store up grain ahead of time. This will prove to be what brings him back together with his brothers and his father.

This story of Joseph’s rise from prison to palace will be the focal story for our Vacation Bible School this summer. My hope and prayer is that the children hear and see more than just Joseph’s rise to power and riches. We will have failed if all they come away with is the idea that God will bless the faithful. I pray that they will hear instead that God is with Joseph in every part of his journey, both the highs and the lows. His faith in God is what gave him strength in every circumstance, and ultimately enabled him to forgive his brothers. It’s a story of forgiveness and grace, and not just prosperity. May God enable us to tell it well!

Prayer: God, you are with me when all I see is a pit. And you are with me when I feel blessed. Help me to trust in you always. Help me to see and name your grace at work in forgiveness and reconciliation and not just in power and might. In the name of Jesus the Christ 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 February 19 2016

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Scripture: Mark 2:13-22

Key verses: (16b, 18b) “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners? . . . ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Reflection: The Pharisees and John the Baptist’s disciples and people in the crowd were troubled by Jesus. They were troubled that he was not honoring the rules of religion.  According to Mark, the first signs of opposition to Jesus do not come from the Roman occupying regime. They do not come from the local political authorities — Herod and his crowd. They come from the religious community.

Religion. It comes from a Latin word meaning to bind, to restrain, to obligate. It usually means fulfilling our obligation to God — giving to God what is owed. Yet, as Mark tells it, it is the religious, those most keen on making sure people fulfill their obligations toward God, that Jesus disturbs.  As we read on in Mark we find it is this opposition from the religious community that leads to Jesus’ execution.

Into a very religious world in which the common understanding was that persons could not be welcomed into the community of God without fulfilling the obligations demanded by God, Jesus comes preaching.  He shares good news, namely that the community of God is right at hand. By his actions Jesus makes it clear there are no prior obligations that have to be met in order for one to be welcomed into this Beloved Community.  He demonstrates this by calling Levi, a traitor to his own people, likely a cheat as well, to follow him as a part of Jesus’ community.  He demonstrates this by eating at the same table with “tax collectors and sinners” while they are still “tax collectors and sinners.”

This “good news” and this behavior deeply troubled the religious.

Today, does Jesus’ good news of such a community still trouble us?  How would our life, especially our life as church — as a provisional demonstration of the community God intends for all people — be different if we truly believed this good news?

Let us ponder these questions.

Prayer: God of grace, still our hearts and minds from taking offense at your scandalous welcome into your Beloved Community.  In the name of the one who has come among us full of grace and truth, Jesus the Christ we pray. 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].

 

 

Thursday February 18 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 126

Key verse: (5)  “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.”

Reflection: Recently, I saw pictures from the city of Homs in Syria. This thriving city was home to over one million people. Now it is a bombed out wasteland of destroyed buildings that once were apartments, businesses, hospitals, schools, parks and playgrounds, soccer fields and tree lined streets with outdoor cafes. As I looked at the pictures I wondered if this is what Jerusalem looked like after the Babylonians destroyed it in 567 BCE. Certainly it was a horrible sight back then. Vast numbers of people were slaughtered, the strong were taken as prisoners, the weak, sick and elderly were left to starve to death. Sounds like many places in the Middle East today.

It is difficult to imagine how the city of Homs will ever rebuild. But, one day, if the civil war ends, Homs might be restored to it’s original beauty the way Jerusalem was. If that happens, the displaced population of Homs might experience the same feelings that residents of Jerusalem expressed in today’s psalm. This psalm of ascents was sung by people as they travelled up to Jerusalem for the celebration of religious holy days. It was sung as a reminder of God’s salvation from destruction and loss.  When Jerusalem was restored and the people returned it was like a dream. No one thought it could ever happen, but it did.

Have you ever had something happen in your life that turned your entire world upside down?  At the time it may have seemed as if all was lost – there was no hope.  But, when you were set free from the pain of adversity, did it seem like a dream?  Life can feel very surreal when we emerge from suffering.  It is such a relief we might burst out laughing with joy. What seemed impossible comes true!  If you are exiled somewhere right now because of tragedy or destructive choices, pray that God will restore you. Remember God’s faithfulness in the past and cling to hope for the future. Be patient and know that the God of the captive ones of Zion is with you. One day you will be able to sing again.

Prayer:  Lord, be with us in times of exile and times of restoration. If we are unable to shout with joy today, remind us that our weeping won’t last forever. God restores. 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].

 

 

 

Wednesday February 17 2016

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Note: Yesterday’s excellent devotion (2/15/16) was accidentally posted last Friday (2/12/16). We apologize for the confusion. You should find it your inbox or at the Devotions blog

Scripture: Mark 1:29-45

Key verses: (35-36)  In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

Reflection:  Henri Nouwen was bold to write, “The secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning.” (Out of Solitude) It was early in the morning when Jesus sought a quiet, deserted place, in the midst of frenzied days, in order to hear God’s will and guidance for him. If Jesus didn’t find this time he would have not discerned God’s will as easily or confidently.

Imitating Jesus, many of us get up early in the morning, long before dawn, to find peace and stillness before the busy chaos of our day pulls us in. We may study the Bible, read a devotion, go all hot yoga, guzzle java or hit the gym hoping our body in motion will also put our spirit in gear. All of that is good and worthy and I pray you are blessed in your early morning endeavors. In the story however, we are more like the disciples than Jesus.  Jesus knew where he was going and what he had to do. The disciples though got concerned and anxious and began to ‘hunt for’ Jesus. There is some desperation in that word.  I hunt for things that I have lost and desperately need to find. I hunt for what I am deeply craving. I hunt for what is in my heart but not in my grasp.

The good news this morning is that every morning we hunt for Jesus, every time we pursue him because we are hungry or lost or in doubt or wonder- we find him. Just like the disciples early that morning long ago we, in our need and love and desire, search for Jesus and find him. In finding him he bids us not to leave him but to journey with him. And we go.

Prayer: Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you; let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you. Amen. (St. Anselm)

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 February 16 2016

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Scripture: Mark 1:14-28

Key verses: (14-15) Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Reflection: The gospel of Mark doesn’t begin with a story about the baby Jesus.  There are no shepherds, no angels, no wise men.  Instead, there is a man in the wilderness named John and he is calling people to repent.  The word “repent” literally means “to turn around.”  John was calling the people to turn their lives around, to turn toward God, to move in God’s direction instead of away from it, to walk with God instead of on their own.

When Jesus began his ministry, he carried on John’s proclamation of repentance.  Mark tells us he proclaimed the good news of God.  (Is the sentence above “good news” to you?)  The good news was that the time is fulfilled.  What you have been longing for has now begun.  God’s presence is now in the flesh in the world.

The kingdom of God has come near.  A friend once suggested to me that we tend to think of the kingdom as the goal at the end of our journey.  We might think we will find the kingdom when we cross the finish line.  My friend wondered if instead the kingdom is beside us.  I imagine it might be like when you are driving on the National Park Road at the Grand Canyon and, you glimpse the canyon through a break in the trees, realizing it has been right beside you all along.  The kingdom of God has come near.  Jesus is beside you.  Good news indeed!

Prayer: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.” O God, give me eyes to see your kingdom, give me courage to repent, and give me faith to believe the good news.  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].