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].

 

Monday April 11 2016

Monday

Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17

Key verses: (1-6) An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Amindab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

Reflection: This geneology of Jesus, which includes the family link from Abraham all the way down to Jesus, is all that we get from Matthew before we see Jesus fully grown, ready to be baptized by his cousin John. In Matthew’s gospel, there is no birth narrative, no Christmas story, no swaddling clothes or angels or shepherds or magi. There is just this list of long-dead relatives that links Jesus to the very first covenant made by God with Abraham.

I’ve spent a little time sifting through old family photos, looking for similarities between relatives I know, and generations of family past, asking: Does my daughter have the same eyes as her great grandmother? How else am I like my Presbyterian pastor relative on my mother’s side? Does the gift for languages, evident in my son, have a genetic family link (because it sure didn’t come from his parents)? There aren’t clear definitive answers to these questions. There are just stories and inferences to be made from clues in old photos or documents. But there is also the tie of family. We are linked to one another, in a kind of covenant relationship, whether we want to admit it all the time of not. Maybe that’s enough, for family.

As a part of the family of faith, linked by a family covenant with Jesus, we can ask the same kinds of questions: How are we like those who have gone before us? How are we like Jesus? Where do we see the qualities of the saints, and of Jesus, in one another? And how can we celebrate and nurture those traits in ourselves and in our children? Perhaps the first step is just to look for them, and name them.

Prayer: Lord, you are our beginning and our end. We are all your children. Help us look for your Spirit at work in ourselves, and in each other. And when we see it, help us name it, and celebrate it, for we seek to be more and more like you. In your 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].

 

 

Friday April 8 2016

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Scripture:  I Peter 3:13-16

Key verse: (14) “Do not fear their fear . . .”

Reflection: The Bible I use most frequently, the New Revised Standard Version, renders the verse referenced above as, “Do not fear what they fear, . . .”  Yet, there is a footnote which indicates that the Greek words in the biblical manuscript really say, “Do not fear their fear…”  Other people’s fear can be a threatening thing.

The writer of this letter was addressing Christians living in a non-Christian world in Asia Minor.  These Christians were not necessarily suffering physical persecution.  But they were being shunned and mistreated.  Why?  It was because the people of the culture in which these Christians were living were full of fear, fear that their way of life was under threat.  They considered these Christians to be a part of that threat to their lives.

Are there people surrounding us in our culture — in our world— who are acting out because they are full of fear?  Is the viciousness of this current political season in our state and nation driven by people full of fear that their way of life is slipping away and thus they are now lashing out?  Look at the growing xenophobia toward persons who are different in religion, or in sexual orientation, or who are immigrants among us. Is it emerging out of people full of fear that somehow their station in life is being dismantled?

When people act out, even toward us, because they are full of fear, do we cower in fear?  Do we become intimidated?  If you are like me that is our tendency.

“Do not fear their fear…” this writer urges Christians, even Christians suffering because the ones around them were so fearful.  Instead, this writer continues, “Sanctify Christ as Lord” in your heart.  That is, in the holy space of the core of your soul, have Christ rule (be “Lord”).  Have Christ rule your response to the ones full of fear.  “Always be ready” to bear witness “to the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

There are ones full of fear that come at us because they believe the way we are living out the gospel is a part of the threat to their way of life.  What if we responded to them consciously allowing Christ to rule our thoughts, our words, our gestures?  What if we responded in gentleness and with respect?

“Do not fear their fear.”  Instead, let us live this day ruled by “that hope that is within us.”

Prayer: Lord, kindle within our hearts today a flame of love for our neighbors, our foes, our friends, yes, even those who fear and turn on us out of their fear.  Confirm in us your rule in Christ Jesus by which we rightly live and from which we wrongly turn. Through Jesus Christ our Savior we pray.  Amen.

Prayer adapted from A Wee Worship Book, Fourth Incarnation, Glasgow:  Wild Goose Worship Group, 1999

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 April 7 2016

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Scripture: John 15: 12-27

Key verse: (12) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Reflection: Today’s passage is set on the last night of Jesus’ life when he sat with his disciples at the Passover table. He gives them a command to love one another as he has loved them. This commandment was highlighted recently on Maundy Thursday.

In my experience, it is very difficult for many people to love themselves, much less love another. And, to love like Jesus seems close to impossible to me. How do any of us begin to love the way Jesus did?

Years ago I heard Leonard Sweet talk about loving others. Loosely based on verses from the Bible, he wrote this:

Iron Rule — Do unto others before they do unto you
Silver Rule — Do unto others as they do unto you
Golden Rule — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Platinum Rule — Do unto others as they would have you do unto them

Titanium Rule — Do unto others as Christ has done unto us . . . And what has Christ done for us? Laid down his life. What are you willing to lay down, what are you laying down — what personal preferences, privileges, entitlements, enjoyments — so that others can pick up the gospel?

Loving the way Jesus loves is the Titanium Rule. It is the premiere way we share God’s love. To love like Jesus requires a submission and consent to the grace of God. It involves choosing to love another by willingly giving up something for the sake of that person. This isn’t neurotic martyrdom, but rather a choice that comes out of our own sense of self-esteem. We love the way we are loved because we know we are loveable. If we don’t believe we are loveable it will be very hard to really love. Instead we will end up complaining about the sacrifice we have made. We will feel put upon. Once we understand our own beloved-ness to God, it will be easier to love others.

I hope you have experienced the love of God in your life so that you can willingly share it.

Prayer: Loving God, we thank you for the command to love the way we have been loved by you. Help us to catch a glimpse of your love for us that we might share this love with others. Thank you for calling us beloved. May we live into this gift. 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 April 6 2016

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Scripture: John 15:1-11

Key Verse: (5) I am the vine, you are the branches.

Reflection: These words might provoke the image of Jesus as a strong oak tree and we the branches jutting out, trying to bear fruit. I must have drawn that picture a dozen times in church school. But the thing about a vine is that you can’t really tell the trunk from the branches at all.  They are all intertwined. It is hard to discern where one part ends and the other begins. Vines and branches look more like a Celtic knot, an interwoven pattern, a holy union, where many elements make one connected thing.

Is that a way for us to think about our life with Christ? Christ’s love and power enfolding and encircling us, walking ahead of us and behind us? Where do our lives and God’s life in us separate? Or, do they?

One of the ways Jesus makes the relationship we have with him perfectly clear is using not only the image of the vine but by repeating the word abide: Abide in me as I abide in you, like the branches and the vine, abide with me.  Forty times we hear that word in John’s gospel, most of them in this chapter. It’s an old fashioned word, isn’t it?  To abide means to stay, to rest, to hang out with, remain with. It is an invitation more than a command. It is a holy desire that God expresses on almost every page of the sacred text we call the Bible.  Abide with me.

My mother and I really only ever had two conversations.  Most of the year the conversation was: “So when are you coming home?”

And for that short time I was home for a visit the conversation was: “So how long can you stay?”

The subject of every conversation: abide. Though we sometimes feel far from the ones we love, though we feel far from God at times, or worst God can feel far from us, the truth is we are never far from those we love, because God is never far from us, though time and distance and even death try and convince us otherwise.  We live in a community on earth and in heaven and share a communion. We all are a part of the vine and are bound and free by the power of the Holy Spirit. We dwell in Christ, and Christ in us.

Prayer: I need your presence every passing hour.  What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.  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].

 

 

Tuesday April 5 2016

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Scripture: John 14:18-31

Key verse: (27) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Reflection: We often hear verses from this passage read at funeral services.  As Jesus ate with his disciples before his own death, he offered them words of comfort.  In the midst of those comforting words, we hear this verse about peace.  What does it mean that the peace that Jesus gives us isn’t like the peace the world gives?

Much of the world’s peace is predicated on violence. In Jesus’ own time, the Roman Empire had peace, Pax Romana, based on defeating and subduing enemies.  This was freedom from the threat of war or uprising, but it depended on constant oppression. More recently, in the Hunger Games novels, the Peacekeepers are troops controlled by the Capitol, responsible for maintaining order and punishing those who break the law. They control the common people, repressing any who speak or act against the government. Perhaps you know that the “Peacemaker” is a name for a Colt single-action revolver.

Peace that is dependent on violence is based on fear.  Jesus offers us a peace that is free from fear.  Rather than wielding our power to subdue others, we submit ourselves to the way of Jesus.  Rather than putting others down in order to lift ourselves up, we humble ourselves through service.  The way of Jesus is the way of peace. This peace is a consequence of our abiding trust in the presence of God with us no matter what we face.  We do not have to give in to fear. We trust in God.  Our Lord who died on the cross and was raised from the grave will lead us in victory over death, not through violence but with radical love for even our enemies.  He gives us his peace.

Prayer: Dear Lord, give me your peace.  When I am tempted by the peace that the world offers, give me the courage and the strength to accept your peace instead.  Awaken me to your presence in my life and in my world.  Deepen my faithfulness.  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].

 

Monday April 4 2016

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Scripture: John 14: 8-17

Key verses: (15-17) 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,  to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

Reflection: This time after Easter is a promise that the presence and power of Jesus will extend beyond the empty tomb, beyond Easter. The resurrection is not a culmination to the season of Lent but it is the beginning of something. It is a time when we enter into resurrection living. Practicing the resurrection, we claim life rather than death. Jesus reminds us that the Holy Spirit abides with us to help us live out the commandments.

In the Gospel of John, the Spirit is called the Advocate, a term for someone who is called to one’s side as a source of help. An advocate today is someone who speaks up on your behalf, like in the court system or in a health care situation. In John, it may seem like the Spirit is the Advocate who brings our case up before God so that God will do something merciful for us. But God has already given the gift of love through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love is what creates genuine life.  The Spirit is the Advocate who brings the truth of that love and life to us in this time after Easter, which makes faith possible.

We cannot leave Easter as if it were just an event this spring.  We need to claim the promises of Easter and keep the commandments that Jesus challenged us to live out in faith.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit abides with us as we seek to be faithful.

Prayer: God, thank you for your Son who continues to challenge my faith. Inspire me to love and remind me I am never alone.  May I faithfully follow him in all I do and all I am.  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].