Wednesday April 20 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 118

Key Verses:  (1-4, 24)

1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!

2   Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
3   Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
4   Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”

24  This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Reflection: When the people of Israel made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the high holy days of their faith they found familiar words in their worship. Can’t you hear the congregation responding to the worship leader? “Let Israel say,” and the congregation responds: “His steadfast love endures forever.”  “Let the house of Aaron say,” and those worshipers respond: “His steadfast love endures forever.” “Let those who fear the Lord say,” and the whole congregation proclaims aloud again: “His steadfast love endures forever!”

We do the same kind of call and response in our worship. From verse 24 of this same psalm, we say:  “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” We say to one another: “The peace of Christ be with you…and also with you.” We repeat these words again and again, not because they are the only things we have to say about God. We repeat them because they express some fundamental tenets of our faith.

Just as the people of Israel reminded themselves that God’s steadfast love endures forever, despite war or famine or personal tragedy, so do we. God’s steadfast love never wavers, no matter what the latest news cycle shows, or the latest poll numbers proclaim. If, in our worship together, or alone, we can remind ourselves of this, we may find our faith helps us become those who show the steadfast love of God to others. If every day, we can remind ourselves to rejoice and be glad in this day the Lord has made, our faith might enable us to be the means of joy for others of God’s children too. If we can share the peace of Christ with all whom we meet, we might find that peace in the world follows.

Prayer: Lord, I give thanks that your steadfast love endures forever. I rejoice and am glad in this day you have made. Help me to share the peace of Christ today, and every day. In his holy name 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 April 19 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 5:11-16

Key verses: (11-12) “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Reflection: “Go back to China where you belong!”  I remember those words from an anonymous letter my mother received after she wrote a letter to the editor of The Richmond Times Dispatch challenging as immoral and unjust Virginia’s resistance to school desegregation.  It was in the late 1950s.  I was about twelve or thirteen years old and embarrassed by my mother’s action. It was costly for her.  A daughter of missionaries to China, a person with a theological post-graduate degree, when she took her stand against segregation, a stand she took because of her understanding of the gospel of God, she became ostracized in our town.  It is embarrassing to a teenager when his mother is scorned.

She took it.  She carried in her soul the rejection by the community, even the congregation, in which she lived.  “Blessed!”?  Give me a break, I would say.  “Wonderful!”?  That is the way one New Testament scholar renders that biblical word, “blessed.” (1) “It is wonderful when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account.”  How wonderful is that?

In the world’s terms, I cannot say it was a wonderful experience for my mother. However, what I know is that for the next forty years of her life, to her dying day, she had deep abiding peace and joy at the core of her soul. She had that deep peace and joy because she had been given the gift of the perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ and had borne testimony to the gospel’s calling in those hard days in the struggle for a more just society.

I wonder how am I today standing up for the perspective of the gospel, even in the face of being shunned and reviled by people around me?  How are you standing up as well?  Will you and I come to know that same joy and peace I witnessed that my mother had at the core of her soul?

Prayer:

Holy God,

“Lo, the hosts of evil round us scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!

From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

for the living of these days,

for the living of these days.”  Amen.

From the hymn by Harry Emerson Fosdick, written in 1930, God of Grace and God of Glory,

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)   N. T. Wright.  Matthew for Everyone, Part One, Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press 2004

Monday April 18 2016

Monday

Scripture: Matthew 5: 1-10

Key verse: (1) “Blessed are . . .”

Reflection: The Sermon on the Mount contains some of the most familiar teachings of Jesus found in the Bible.  It begins with what we call the Beatitudes.  Beatitude is a Latin word which means happiness, however the first word that begins each verse is the word blessed,  not happy.   We could argue that if you are blessed you are happy, but this text doesn’t read like a prescription for happiness.  It is set up as stating a condition and the result of that condition, with the results being different than might be expected.  For instance:  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”   When have the meek ruled the earth?  The powerful rule the earth. Jesus takes familiar situations and turns them upside down.  Jesus lifts up a different set of ideals to put into practice.

Here is one way of reading the Beatitudes:

You are blessed if you are humble (choose humility).

You are blessed if you are meek (give up your rights for someone else).

You are blessed if you mourn (feeling pain is OK).

You are blessed if you hunger and thirst for righteousness (wanting more of God can be satisfying).

You are blessed if you are merciful (show the mercy of God to others).

You are blessed if you are pure in heart (allow the Holy Spirit to transform you).

You are blessed if you are a peacemaker (work to restore relationships).

You are blessed if you are persecuted for teaching God’s acceptance (walk in Jesus’ steps anyway).

These are blessings that can change our thinking and our lives.

Prayer:  God of all blessings, thank you for the challenge you place before us. Help us to live like residents of your kingdom where everything is different. May we show something of a transformed way of life to others as we seek to be humble, gracious, open, merciful, and forgiving. 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 April 15 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 96

Key verse: (12) let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Reflection: I like a little whimsy and this psalm has plenty of it.  Not to say it isn’t serious, the psalm offers the most serious theological thought: The Lord Reigns!  The psalm declares unequivocally that the earth belongs to the Lord and his throne is firmly established, never to be moved.

Think about how we like to brag about who is in the congregation (one friend loves to remind me about a well known celebrity in his church).  Well, in God’s congregation strength and beauty are members (v.6) not to mention honour, majesty, and glory.  Beat that! God is described as judge and ruler and everyone does and ought to tremble before him.

So where is the whimsy?

Look again at how creation is described: seas roar, heavens are glad, fields exult, trees and forests sing for joy.  It is a poetic scene that Van Gogh (no stranger to whimsy) could maybe capture, but how might it look for you this morning?  As you go about your day do you see how God’s creation is responding to the news that the Lord Reigns?  Get your whimsy on and see what praise and joy might be surrounding you this very moment.

But before you go, let me note that the psalm is doing holy math. The word praise is used fourteen times and the word all is used seven.  It is the psalmist reminding us that wholeness  (seven represents completeness, seven times two is double wholeness!) is found by praising and that everyone and everything (all) has reason to praise.  The Lord reigns above you but, also and always, for you.  The Lord reigns in all times and for all time.  The Lord reigns even when it feels like all hell has broken loose, maybe especially so.  The Lord reigns and it’s worth singing about. That kind of loving power and care helps trees sing and fields exult and seas roar like lions.

How might you respond today?

Prayer: With new songs and timeless truths, I take my place today in creation’s choir to sing your praises, Lord.  Through tears or with laughter, in silence or with deep sighs: I praise you.  With my heart I love you. With my life I trust you. In Christ, I come to you.   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 April 14 2016

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Scripture: Colossians 1:24-2:7

Key verses: (6-7) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Reflection: Apparently the Colossians were mired in controversy.  If you thought church controversies and disagreements were a new phenomenon, you’re wrong!  From the very beginning, faithful people have disagreed about the basics of the faith and how to live it out.  Some of the Colossians believed that they were not yet worthy to have access to God.  They taught that special spiritual practices and observances were necessary in order to gain sufficient wisdom to be faithful.

The writer of the letter calls that teaching “empty deceit.”  In Jesus Christ, we have been made justified and worthy.  Through Christ, we are in right relationship with God and we don’t need to do anything else to earn access to God.

That’s good news.  In today’s key verses, the writer reminds us that we have already received Christ.  Notice the verbs here, “have received” and “continue to live” and “were taught.”  We don’t need to seek something new.  Like a seed planted in the soil this spring, we abide in Christ and we will be rooted and built up in him. Our faithfulness flows out of our gratitude and thanksgiving, rather than out of a need to perfect ourselves or make ourselves worthy for God.  We don’t need to prove anything. We don’t need to be “special” to get God’s attention. God’s love in Christ is a gift we have already received.  Live out your thanksgiving for that gift today.

Prayer: O God, set me free from the empty deceit that tells me I am unworthy of your love.  Plant your good news deep within my soul so that it may take root and flourish and bear fruit of thanksgiving. Through Christ the Lord 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 April 13 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17

Key verses: (13-17)  13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Reflection: Baptism announces God’s favor and establishes Jesus’ identity. In Matthew’s account the voice from heaven announces that Jesus is God’s Son, the One with whom God is well pleased. Baptism, for Jesus, was the inauguration of his mission and ministry and assurance of God’s presence. It was a commissioning.

Whenever we have a baptism, my children ask about the day of their baptism. Who was there? Who baptized me? What was I wearing? They laugh at the idea of wearing something smocked and are always in awe at who came for that special day. The pastors are still in their life as are a few of the congregation members that took the baptismal vow on those special days.  I have to admit that we do not celebrate their baptism every year and I would have to do some research to find the exact day. But we do talk about their baptisms.  Each story is beautiful and both tell of the body of Christ that embraced them with the baptismal vow.

Baptism is significant. We are claimed as God’s own and called beloved.  While the day itself may be a big deal for some, our emphasis on baptism seems to end there.  We need to make teaching the significance of baptism a priority. This shouldn’t just occur when babies are baptized on a Sunday morning. The benediction can be the time to hear the call to live out our baptism in our various roles and vocations in the world. During hospital visits to family and friends, there are many opportunities to remind those we visit of God’s promises to us in Baptism.  Hear the details of Jesus’ baptism from our scripture reading today with an interest in how it might help us understand our own. The profound words of grace are for Jesus and they are also for us.  We too, are God’s beloved children, with whom God is well pleased.

Prayer: Faithful God, help me remember my own baptism and claim my identity as your beloved child and guide me as I uphold the baptismal vows I have made for your covenant people. 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 April 12 2016

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Scripture: Mathew 3:7-12

Key verse: (8-9) Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

Reflection: John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin.  He became well known as a prophet calling people to repentance. He warned that repentance was needed because God was coming to hold people accountable for their actions.

That’s an important thing to do, of course.  But he got into trouble when he saw some Pharisee and Sadducees coming for baptism. These were the religious leaders of the day who spent a considerable amount of time obeying the Jewish laws trying to be worthy before God. So what John said to them would have shocked not only the leaders but everyone in earshot. “You brood of vipers (poisonous snakes)! …Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our ancestor.’” Apparently the religious leaders of the day thought that they were somewhat immune from actual repentance because their religious heritage went back to the formation of the Hebrew people, to Father Abraham. But John dismissed their presumptuous privilege with the claim that God could raise up children of Abraham from stones!

It may be the same for you, but for me it is so much easier to see the shortcomings of others than to see them in myself.  I can quickly point out the moral and behavioral failures of others without even thinking of cleaning up my own act. Is it our presumption that we are acting from the highest of motives and aspirations? Is it our confidence that we come from a good religious heritage and don’t have to be as concerned about repentance as everyone else?  Is it the log in our own eye that gets in the way of honest self-reflection?

John the Baptist nails it. We are all a brood of vipers. The fact that we think we are above repentance is the first clue that we are not. God can see clearly even if we cannot or do not. And God will hold us accountable. Our hope is that even vipers can be made whole in God’s kingdom, and stones turned into children of God.

Prayer: Help us repent, O God, when we know we need it and especially when we do not. Prevent us from claiming any exception from living faithfully. Help us bear good fruit in every aspect of life. This we pray in the name of John’s cousin, Jesus the Christ.  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].