Tuesday May 31 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 13:53-58

Key verse: (58) And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

Reflection:  Jesus can’t get no respect!

After many, many months of preaching and healing and feeding people throughout Galilee,  Jesus decided to return home.

There he met up with his family: mother, brothers, and sisters. But when he did what he had always done – preach in the synagogue – he ran into profound resistance.

First the hometown people questioned his sources: Where did he get this wisdom and power?

Then they questioned his ancestry: Is this not the carpenter’s son?  Is this not Mary’s son?

Then they questioned his family ties: Don’t we know his brothers and sisters?

It was as if they couldn’t believe someone from their town could be God’s anointed.

So they rejected him.

Which meant that whatever Jesus had, it wasn’t going to work in Nazareth.

And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

Can Jesus do deeds of power in your home, your church, your community?

Prayer: Remove our unbelief, O Lord, so that the power of your presence can be experienced where we are right now. Open our hearts and minds to receive you where we live. In the name of the hometown boy, Jesus. 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].

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Monday May 30 2016

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Scripture: Galatians 1:1-17

Key verses: (13-17)  13You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being,17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Reflection: Paul’s story should give us all hope. He reminds the Galatian church how he started out: violently persecuting the church of God. He arrested followers of Jesus. His intent was to destroy the whole movement. He was good at it, and people were afraid of him. He was a model Pharisee, following the law scrupulously, and advancing in Judaism. From the perspective of a certain kind of Jew, he was a go-getter, and a leader. From the perspective of those trying to follow Jesus, he was a terror.

But Paul changed. His encounter with Jesus thoroughly reoriented his life. He dedicated the same zeal he had shown towards destroying the church into spreading and strengthening it. He is careful to say, though, that it was God’s doing, and not his own. The revelation came from God alone. What strikes me about his words is his trust that God had this shift in mind all along. He says that God had set him apart before he was born. When the time was right, God’s grace went to work, calling Paul to follow, and revealing Jesus to him.

If that is true of Paul, might it not also be true of us? Might it not be true of those whom we know and love, who are on a path that seems destructive? Might it not also be true of those whom we can’t stand or understand? May God give us the grace to trust that God is in control.

Prayer: Lord, if you can turn Paul around, I know you can turn me, and anyone else, around too. Help me to trust in you. Give me the eyes to see and ears to hear you when you reveal yourself. Help me to follow Jesus. In his 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].

 

 

Friday May 27 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 13:31-35

Key verses: (31, 33) “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… like yeast…”

Reflection: Mustard. Palestinian farmers were troubled by mustard. As I said in a sermon a few months back, mustard was not what we think of as we smear it on hotdogs. Mustard was an invasive weed like kudzu is to us. It took over.

Yeast (or leaven, as our older English bibles translated the word). Leaven was smelly.  It was old, leftover dough in a high state of fermentation.  Just like day-old fish scrapings left in our trash can smell up the whole house, so leaven could smell up a room. Leaven was therefore not always welcomed. It could be troublesome.

Yet Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone deliberately sowed in a field.  He says the kingdom of heaven is like a little, smelly ball of leaven someone deliberately hid (that is the Greek word used in the text) in a huge amount of flour, three measures — about fifty pounds of flour!

What happened?  The mustard took over and became a “tree” grand enough to shelter the birds of the air.  That tree refers to the tree from a dream Daniel interpreted — the tree “whose top reached heaven and was visible to the end of the whole earth…which provided food for all…and in whose branches the birds of the air had nests” (Daniel 4:20-21).  And that leaven made those fifty pounds of flour rise into more than enough bread to feed over a hundred people. Could such a large amount of bread be a sign of the Messianic Feast to whom Jesus invites all people?

I am intrigued by these parables. For how often is it that Jesus is troublesome to us?  How often is it that his description of God’s Beloved Community is offensive to us?

This week I sat in on a group of young adults here at the church who had ventured out to share an afternoon with residents of a drug treatment shelter.  These Myers Park young adults were reflecting on their encounters with the residents of that shelter.  They knew Jesus said these were their sisters and brothers.  These Myers Park young adults were troubled. For having to acknowledge these other people are indeed part of their family, their community, ones Jesus welcomes at the same Table to which he welcomes them was unsettling. Yet, was the way Jesus was messing within the lives of these Myers Park young adults like the mustard and leaven — little invasive, troublesome irritants shaping citizens of the kingdom of heaven?

How is Jesus like an invasive weed in your life today?  How is Jesus like smelly fermenting old dough in your dwelling place today?  Consider today the way Jesus, by troubling your life, is at work shaping you into being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. And give thanksgiving to God for being so troubled!

Prayer:

“The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod,

Yet let us pray for but one thing — the marvelous peace of God.”  Amen.

William Alexander Percy (1885-1942) from the hymn, “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee”

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 May 26 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 36

Key verses: (5-6) “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep.”

Reflection: There is an old praise song from the 1980’s that has the above verse from Psalm 36 in it. I used to love to sing these verses when I was driving in my car. It was a great reminder to me of the breadth and depth of God’s love. However, when we read the entire psalm, we discover that the psalmist is complaining about those who turn away from God to do evil.  He/she acknowledges, somewhat reluctantly, that God cares about everyone – good or bad.  What a powerful reminder that God’s faithfulness is greater than our understanding! It is easy to point out the mistakes and missteps of someone else.  The news is littered with stories about people who have done very evil things to harm themselves and others. The easy path is to condemn them. The harder path is to realize that God loves the whole world even those who are evil. This flies in the face of what most of us believe about good and bad, right and wrong. God is righteous yet, we can be self-righteous.  God is just, yet we are prejudiced.  The enormity of the LORD’s faithfulness is beyond our comprehension, but we know this faithfulness exists. We want to receive it for ourselves, but it can be a challenge to realize it is offered to others – even without their asking for it.

How might knowing this about God change your perception of the world and yourself today?

Prayer: Faithful God, help us to see how precious your steadfast love is to us.  We are grateful that you invite all people to take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  You are our fountain of life.  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 May 25 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 4

Key verse: (1) Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

Reflection: Anyone claustrophobic?  I am more of an acrophobic myself, but who isn’t sympathetic to the fear of small spaces.  Who wants to be crowded in, overcome and overstuffed like you are flying transatlantic, in economy, in a full plane, middle seat, that sat on the tarmac for three hours with no A/C… I digress.

When we are stressed, however, we do tend to talk about it in ways that speak of restriction.  We feel tight when anxious. We imagine we are suffocating when overwhelmed.  Too close for comfort, we might say, or, get off my back.  We use the word ‘over’ as a prefix to imply too much, more than usual, something we need to get out from under.  The word anguish, not used much anymore, comes from the two Latin words for narrow and tight. Ok. Enough already. I am starting to feel claustrophobic now.

The psalmist in the fourth beloved psalm is sounding a little pressed by the vagaries and vicissitudes of life.  There are relentless refrains of complaint and challenge above, around, and no doubt within him.  He cries out to God for help.  God’s response?  Go to your room!  Not a time out but time away with room to breathe and space to move.  God gives the psalmist room, space, time, and release when it is needed most.

You gave me room when I was in distress stands out as such a welcome and loving response to our prayers. I know it might be hard to find that kind of safety and spaciousness today, but what if that is exactly what you need?  And what if God, whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose sense of time and place greatly challenge ours, is walking beside you today and every once in awhile opening a door and inviting you in to a room, a space, a time all your own?  What if there was a refuge today that God has prepared for you?  I pray you find what God has given you for the living of this day.

Prayer: Help me discover today, Lord, what you have prepared and provided for me.  And, in discovering, grant me grace to accept your gifts. In Jesus name. 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 May 24 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 123

Key verse: (2) As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.

Reflection: Where are you looking right now? At your smart phone, your iPad, your computer screen? Our eyes spend a lot of time these days looking at our devices and our technology. How often do you look away from the screen? Perhaps to look into the eyes of another person where you will notice a child of God, created in God’s image? Perhaps to look out the window or into the yard, where you will notice a bird on the feeder or a new flower blooming on the bush?

The writer of the psalm notes that our eyes focus where we are dependent.  We might look at what we prioritize. We might look at what we need or want with great longing and expectation.

Try praying today with your eyes open and focus your gaze on something that inspires your faith.  Where do your eyes see God today?  Where do you see the good news of God’s mercy bringing forgiveness and new life?  Keep your eyes open and up and looking.  The Lord is with you.

Prayer: Forgive me, O Lord, when I forget to look for you in my world.  Open my eyes so that I can see your abiding presence and your powerful mercy. Focus my attention on what really matters.  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 May 23 2016

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Scripture: Matt 12:22-32

Key verse: (30)   30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Reflection: This verse and scripture has been referenced or adapted many times to make a point of coming together for a cause. As we face a year where parties may be divided in an election year, it may be used again. However, the division Jesus references is not about different opinions, political slants, or even religious practices. It is about loyalty. Jesus is calling for a deeper loyalty to God. Do we follow our own agenda or do we follow Jesus?

In 2013 Martha Mullen was at a Starbucks when she heard a radio news report about the difficulty of finding a burial spot for Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  He was one of the men that set the bombs at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 260 others.  Tsarnaev was killed in a gunfight with police and his body remained at a funeral parlor because cemeteries would not allow his burial. Martha Mullen said the first thing that came to her mind was that Jesus said to love your enemies. Then she thought someone ought to do something about this — and I am someone. Martha arranged for Tsarnaev, 26, to be quietly buried  at a small Islamic cemetery in rural Virginia.

Martha Mullen said that it is hard to face the hatred from others but she knows that no one can say that what she and others did for Tsarnaev was unlike Jesus.

That is the question we have to ask when Jesus places a claim on our whole life. We cannot be divided between following our own agenda and deeper discipleship. As always, we are not alone. It is for moments like this that the Holy Spirit was sent to work through us and in us so that every moment we can be faithful in following Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, enter my life and free me from my fears, my insecurities, and the confines of my own agenda.  Give me strength to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world. Come, Holy Spirit, come.  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].