Thursday March 31 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20

Key verse: (17) “When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

Reflection: It was the first encounter the disciples had with the Risen Christ. Matthew tells us some worshiped him,  but some doubted. Can you blame those who doubted?  Resurrection.  It is beyond our comprehension.  So, no wonder “some doubted” this was the same Jesus, the crucified one, who had been buried.

One scholar claims that this text may be read, “When they saw him, they worshiped him and they doubted.”  I wonder if that is the way it is with us.  We worship God who has encountered us in Jesus the Christ.  Yet, even as we do so, do we also doubt, doubt that one could be raised from the dead, doubt that the Jesus who was crucified is now present and is the savior of the world?  Do we worship and doubt all at the same time?

If that is the way it is with us, we may take heart.  For Jesus comes to those who worship him and to those who doubt him.  It is these worshipers and these doubters that he trusts to be his agents in this world.  To the worshipers and doubters alike he gives the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations. To the worshipers and doubters alike he promises to be with them to the end of the age.

So, do you doubt that Jesus is Lord?  If we are honest we are bound to admit we indeed doubt, doubt a lot.  The opposite of faith is not doubt.  It is apathy — not caring.  If we doubt that means we are wrestling with the gospel truth that “He is risen and rules the world with truth and grace.”

So we worship and doubt.  That is okay with Jesus.  Let it therefore be okay with us this day.

Prayer: Lord, we believe. Help thou our unbelief. 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].

 

 

Wednesday March 30 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 28:1-16

Key verses: (5-10) 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Reflection: What if we were not afraid? What if we heard the words of the angel and of Jesus  and lived like we had nothing to fear, because Jesus is risen? It’s not easy to do. I’m not even sure what it looks or feels like to live that way. Even the women who found the empty tomb and got their instructions directly from an angel of God couldn’t do it. They were told, “Do not be afraid,”…but still, “they left the tomb quickly with fear…” Yet not only fear. They also left with “great joy.” And Matthew tells us they ran to tell the disciples.

Perhaps that is what it means to follow the instructions to not be afraid. Maybe all we have to do is hold on to our joy along with our fear. And then keep telling the story we know.  Keep reminding ourselves and others that Jesus is risen and, in so doing, has broken the power of sin and evil and death. We may still be afraid, but we do not lose joy or hope or peace  in the midst of it. And we don’t stop telling the good news: Come and see—he  is not here. Then go and tell!

Prayer: O Lord, may the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwell in me. Walk with me in my fear. Keep my joy in front of me. Open my mouth to tell the story of your grace and mercy and love. In the name of Jesus, the risen 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 March 29 2016

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Scripture: Exodus 12:28-39

Key verse: (29) “At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.”

Reflection: For many years the story of the first Passover troubled me.  As a child I accepted this as one more scary story in scripture that reminded me what could happen if one messed with God. But, as an adult, I have come to understand that this story chronicles a great reversal of fortune  when the powerful Egyptian Empire is brought to it’s knees.  Those with power lose their power making this a story of hope for those who were (and are) oppressed. Pharaoh was the most powerful  man in the world, but he was no match for God’s power.  It’s no wonder that this story is central in the life and faith of Judaism.

Two days ago, we gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.  Jesus had no power by earthly standards and certainly no power compared to the Roman Empire.  And yet, the empire didn’t have the last word.  Jesus’ love could not be destroyed.  The power of God overcame the powers of darkness.  The story of the crucifixion and the resurrection are scary stories, too!  Yet, in these stories we catch a glimpse of the “miracle of transferring power.”  We see a great reversal of power in both.  This reversal  of power continues today as faithful people share the hope of God’s great and sustaining love with those who are powerless.

Prayer: Risen Lord, we are humbled by your power to set people free.  Help us in this Easter season to be instruments of your hope and love.  Remind us that this kind of power, given by you, can change the world. 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].

 

Monday March 28 2016

Monday

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

Key verse: (3) They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’

Reflection: Walking down a lonely city street one night a very obvious looking homeless man walked toward me singing like he was Adele and I was a partially deaf fan sitting at the back of the stadium that he really wanted to ensure heard the concert:

Every little thing is gonna be all right!

Woke up this morning and smiled with the rising sun.

Every. Little. Thing. Is. Gonna. Be. Alright. This is my message to you oo oo…

I loved that Bob Marley song!  But I couldn’t sing it for a very long time after that encounter.  How could someone who was such a glaring example (warning?) of everything not going to be all right sing with such joy and gusto?  Was my street friend being ironic? Was his joyful song really a lament?  Just another existential moment fueled by cognitive dissonance that heightened the tension of our encounter?

Or, maybe like the women today in the Gospel, he had just come from that inexplicably but forever gloriously empty tomb.  Maybe he trusted what I only profess when all the evidence is in and the blessings counted: everything will be alright.  Simplistic theology for this high holy Easter holiday I know.  But the tomb-bound women who were worried with a million worries (who will roll away the stone??) were greeted with the obvious but unexpected news: He has been raised.  He is not here.  (That’s the first Easter sermon with a charge at the end to go and get everyone to Galilee).

They flee with hearts racing and tongues tied but somewhere along the way home one of them started singing “every little thing, is going to be all right.”

The good news is the best news, even and especially in a world as hurting and lost as ours.  He has been raised!  Nothing is ever the same.  Most of all, you.

Prayer: Wondrous worker of wonders, let me this day find the words and the song and the music to share and sing with all I meet:  Christ my Lord is risen. Amen and Amen and 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].

Friday March 25 2016

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Scripture: John 19:38-42

Key verse: (40) They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

Reflection: When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus and prepared it for burial they were performing an act of tremendous love and devotion for a dead man. They had no idea that in mere days he would be raised from the dead.

As disciples, we follow an embodied Messiah. The truth of the incarnation (God in the flesh) means we honor bodies as part of God’s good creation.  Early Christians did not idealize bodies, or romanticize bodies, or shun bodies, but instead cared for bodies, living and dead, in ways that perplexed those around them.  Our commitment to an embodied Messiah leads Christians into medical mission, and into health and wellness ministry, and into care for the dying and the dead.

Increasingly in our culture we are uncomfortable with the dying and the dead. Perhaps we avoid them because they are a witness to our mortality. We use euphemisms, like “passed away” or “lost,” to avoid talking about death directly. Unlike generations before us, and cultures all around the world, we are strangely sheltered from the reality of death and the presence of the dying and the dead.

On this Good Friday, reflect on the power of following an embodied Lord.  How do we love an embodied Messiah?  How does your belief in incarnation change the way you treat your body and the bodies of those you love?  How can you move forward to offer care instead of avoiding those who are dying?

Prayer: When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.  Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.  Amen.

(verses 1 and 4 from When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, by Isaac Watts)

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].

Thursday March 24 2016

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Scripture:  Mark 14:12-25

Key verses: (24-26) For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Reflection: Fifteen minutes before every meeting a reminder pops up on my computer.  I get a reminder text from my dentist the week of my appointment.  My favorite app is the one that gives you a countdown to big events in your life.  Yes, I could get by without them, but it makes it easier for me to remember in this fast-paced culture.  We live at a time when we are prone to forget something.

On Maundy Thursday we are invited to remember.  We are invited to remember not just an event in history but to remember that this event happens in many times and many places.  Whenever we are at the Lord’s table we form a memory that connects us to the disciples that were at the table with Jesus. It is a communal memory, reminding us of our shared identity in Christ. It is a life-giving memory, reminding us that we were lost but now are found.  It is a transformative memory, reminding us that we are nourished by grace, forgiven in our failures and called to love. Every time we gather at the table, we are invited to remember.

Especially tonight, on this Holy Thursday, we are invited to remember — remember who we are and to whom we belong.

Prayer: God,  I am humbled and inspired by the great love expressed in your son. Guide me in my remembering so that it may transform my living for you.  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 March 23 2016

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Scripture: Mark 12:1-11

Key verses: (5-6) Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.“

Reflection: Jesus had made his grand entry into Jerusalem on Sunday. Then he disrupted the daily business of the Temple by turning over some tables. The religious leaders (think of them as Presbyterian Clergy and Ruling Elders) began to question his authority to do such disorderly things, especially in public, during the lead up to one of the high holy days of the Jewish year. In response Jesus told them a story.

A man planted a vineyard and leased it to some tenants. (The Jewish hearers would have remembered Isaiah 5:1-7 where the people of Israel were the vineyard and God was the planter.) The owner went away leaving the tenants in charge. Eventually the owner sent a slave to collect the owner’s share of the vineyard’s production. The tenants beat up the representative of the owner and gave him nothing. The owner sent another representative who was also beaten and sent away. This happened another time and then again and again. The owner decided to send one more person to the tenants—his beloved son. But the tenants, in a weird, distorted logic, killed the owner’s son thinking that would finally get them what they wanted. “Can you imagine,” Jesus asked his listeners, “what the owner will do to the tenants now?”

It’s easy for us in our time to see the terrible analogy here of the Jewish leaders (as the tenants) rejecting the son (Jesus). We might even gloat a little that we are not like them. Or are we?

How many times has God reached out to us, yet we have rejected him? How many times has the son show up as a disturbing, disruptive, demanding force upsetting our carefully constructed religious life? How many times have we rejected him and his message? Yet God continues to reach out to us, offering in the end God’s precious, beloved Son.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

From the hymn: Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended
Author: Johann Heermann (1630); Translator: Robert Seymour Bridges (1897)

Prayer: Prevent us, O God, from denying our complicity in the death of your Son, our savior. Have mercy when we reject you and open our hearts to receive your persistent and steadfast love.  In the name of Jesus, the beloved Son. 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 March 22 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 25

Key Verses: (4-5)

4   Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5   Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Reflection: On Palm Sunday the third, fourth and fifth graders acted out scenes from Holy Week in our Walk to Jerusalem tradition. Younger children’s Sunday School classes visited to watch and learn from their older friends. There was a little anxiety and chaos, as there usually is. Would spring break schedules mean we had enough actors to play all the disciples needed in each scene? (Yes!) Would the children sing the song they had been learning, even if one of the CD players conked out? (Yes, again!) Would the story be told well enough to really engage the little ones? (Yes, indeed.)

They moved from room to room, hearing first the stories of The Last Supper, Jesus in the Garden, and Peter Denies Jesus. Teachers had prepared their classes well. The bread was broken and shared, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, the soldiers arresting Jesus heeded their rehearsal advice to “surround him, don’t actually stab him,” and Peter heard the rooster crow, as Jesus predicted.

Finally, the children made their way to hear from Mary Magdalene, played by Rev. Deborah Connor. She told them of her sadness and disbelief in the death of Jesus. She told them of her confusion when the stone was rolled away and his body was missing. A couple of the littlest ones made sure to say that they knew she wasn’t really Mary. But they all quieted down as she told of her joy and amazement when she met the risen Jesus in the garden. It’s a powerful story — one that we would all do well to hear and read this week. Read Mark chapters 14-16 for the entire story. Below is a way to break the narrative down into smaller daily readings. You might also want to visit the Prayer Stations in the Parlor this week, to read and pray through the entire story.

Tuesday          Mark 14:12-25            The Last Supper

Wednesday    Mark 14:43-50            Jesus is Arrested

Thursday        Mark 15:1-15              Pilate condemns Jesus

Friday             Mark 15:21-39            Jesus is Crucified

Saturday        Mark 15:42-47            Jesus’ Body is Buried

Easter             Mark 16:1-8                 The Tomb is Empty

Prayer: Holy God, carry us through this holiest of weeks. Prepare us to hear again the story of your amazing love and grace in Jesus. In his name we 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 March 21 2016

Monday

Scripture: Mark 11:12-25

Key verses: (22-23)“Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, be taken up and thrown into the sea, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.”

Reflection: He came to me despondent. “I joined this church because it was where the mayor and the president of every bank in town were members. Now none of them are here. Why should I stay?”  Church for this man was there to give divine authorization for the way of life this man enjoyed, to assure him his life as a privileged member of society was blessed by God. Now, church was no longer functioning that way for him.

The Temple had functioned that way in Jesus’ day. And Jesus confronted this role of the Temple. It was sterile, fruitless. Wrapped around his “cleansing of the Temple” he uses two metaphors to explain what is happening: the fig tree and the mountain.

The fig tree was a symbol for Israel. Its fruit was to be peace, the well-being of all people. Yet, the fig tree Jesus encounters in the way the Temple was functioning was fruitless.

The mountain was considered to be the Temple itself, the largest building on the largest hill in Jerusalem. Instead of urging his disciples to trust in this mountain, he called on them to trust in God — “Have faith in God!”  He truly believed his disciples could say to the mountain, to the whole Temple agenda of preserving and blessing the status quo, “be thrown into the sea,” and it would happen for them.  They could be free of trusting that the way of the status quo is God’s way for them and for the world.

We have been reared in a culture that has seen the role of the church as that of preserving the way of life to which we have become accustomed.  We have experienced the church being at times the chief defender of the status quo.  Yet, when the Living Word, Jesus the Christ enters the church that role is disrupted.  As that has happened we sometimes have become anxious, fearful, and even reactive.  For if the status quo comes apart, if our way of life is no longer the blessed way of life, what does that mean for us?  That is precisely what was happening for that man who came to me despondent about the church. Could that be what is happening with us as the church is being changed by Jesus Christ, the Living Word in our midst?

“Have faith in God,” Jesus says to us.  “Trust in God rather than in the way the church has always been for you.”  It is a disturbing word to us perhaps. But ultimately it is a word full of grace and promise for our lives.

Prayer: Transforming God, continue to disturb us, and redeem us for your purposes in this world you so love. In the name of 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].

Friday March 18 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 148

Key verse: (1) Praise the LORD!

Reflection: This psalm is often noted as a psalm of “praise for God’s universal glory” because everywhere we look there is evidence of God — the warmth of a Spring day, the beauty of blooming trees and bulbs, and the gift of life and people who love us.   There are certain times in life that are more conducive to praise than others.  There are people celebrating today because they have received good news about something important to them.

However, you may be suffering right now in body or spirit.  It might feel impossible to give praise.  There is no need to pretend if you are broken-hearted.  But, this could be that a reminder of God’s enduring presence and love might lift your spirits.  God has not forgotten you.  Even when life seems the bleakest, God is with you or someone you love.   Praise the LORD for another day of life, the hugs of friends and family, and most of all the love we all have the opportunity to share.  Praise the LORD for the steadfast love and patience that God offers.

Give thanks for what you can and let the rest go.  Praise the LORD!

Prayer:  Gracious God, we give you thanks for your enduring presence.  We are grateful  you are the author of life and the source of our strength and comfort.  Draw close to those who are struggling.  Lead those who are ungrateful to praise your name.  Help us to give thanks that you are in all things.  We pray 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].