Friday September 30 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 84

Key verse: (4) “Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.”

Reflection: How do you think about  worship? Is it something you look forward to or something you dread?  There are two broad categories of worship – personal worship and communal worship.  What we do on Sunday when we gather is communal worship.  It is a time to gather as a community of faith to praise, pray, and listen to and for the Word of God.  Most of us have specific preferences when we worship.  But, no matter what these preferences might be we want to experience something.  We want to be lifted up out of our everyday lives and hear a word of hope or challenge.  The sole focus of worship is on God, but sometimes we get sidetracked by our own needs and wants and we forget to participate.

Years ago, when I was studying in Jerusalem, the local mosque would sound the call to prayer.  This call happened five times a day: predawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening.  One day at noon,  as I was walking near the Dome of the Rock, the familiar call went out.  People left their shops and began running toward the mosque. Running!  There was a sense of urgency and of joy as people left what they were doing to go and pray.  I was struck by this kind of devotion.

What would happen if we approached our Sunday worship this way?  What if we were filled with such anticipation that we couldn’t wait to get to church to worship God?  The Psalmist says: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!  My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sings for joy to the living God.”

Make Sunday a special day of the week when you give yourself fully to God in worship. Then, see what happens.

Prayer: O LORD, thank you for the gift of worship. Bestow your favor on us as we gather.  Help us to find strength in your presence and the presence of one another.   Help us to worship you with reverent and believing hearts.  May a day in your courts be better than a thousand elsewhere.   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].

Thursday September 29 2016

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Scripture: Luke 6:1-11

Key verse: (11) But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Reflection: Like friends, you should have more than one translation of the Bible, and keep them close as they are interesting to hear from. The line “they were filled with fury” caught my attention and I was even more intrigued when two other translations read “And they were filled with madness/And they were full-filled with unwisdom.”  Filled with fury can make one feel and sound powerful, but the other two translations point to the source of fury: madness and unwisdom (old-fashioned use of the word but has clear meaning).  Spiritual writer Thích Nhất Hạnh, in his book Anger, invites you the next time you are really angry to look into a mirror and ask yourself if you look powerful or ridiculous.  Anger seduces us, tricks us, and ultimately empties us. It is madness.

Notice what anger did to the people in the story today.  It tricked them into thinking they were a community (they discussed with one another) when they were really just a mob plotting harm.  It is so interesting to note that they talked about what they might do to Jesus.  What if they planned how to talk more, argue more, with Jesus?  But their anger needed fuel so Jesus was the wood and to talk and engage him further could have brought some kind of resolution and that was not in anger’s best interests.

So the lesson here is that if you really want to be angry with someone today be sure to avoid them.  Don’t talk to them, meet with them, or think of them. Be sure to spend time only with people who share the same feeling you do. Under no circumstances examine your own heart and motivations and for heaven’s sake don’t even think of praying for them.  If you do any of those things you just might lose your anger and then where would you be?

Prayer:  Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. In Jesus name. Amen.  (Prayer of St. Francis)

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].

Wednesday September 28 2016

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Scripture: Hosea 3:1-5

Key verse: (1) The Lord said to me again, “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”

Reflection: She came to meet with me in my office at the church to tell me about her husband’s affair. She came with tears in her eyes and wringing her hands back and forth with a dirty tissue. She came to ask if forgiveness is really possible.

The prophet Hosea was called to proclaim a metaphor.  God’s love for the people of Israel was like the love of a husband for an unfaithful wife. That love was mixed with anger and hurt and resentment, but the love was still there underneath it all.  God waited with open arms to welcome the people back when they repented. What a troubling metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity!

Sometimes marriage vows are broken. Sometimes the bonds of friendship are broken. Sometimes baptismal vows are broken.  Not every broken bond or vow will be healed, but it is at least possible with God.  If we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we have not been faithful as God’s people. We know we haven’t always made the right choices. We haven’t given selflessly, loved abundantly, or served enthusiastically. Our community doesn’t look much like God’s kingdom and we know we are at least partly to blame for that. Like an adulterous spouse, we turn back to God and ask for another chance.  Every Sunday in worship we confess our sin, hear the good news of forgiveness, and then we share the gift of peace. Every single Sunday.

Prayer: Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto me.  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].

 

Tuesday September 27 2016

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Scripture: Luke 5:12-26

Key verses: (18-19) 18Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 19but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.

Reflection: It is always the loyalty and selflessness of the paralytic’s four friends that catches my eye in this scripture. They want a cure for their friend and a crowd blocking the door to Jesus is not about to stop them. They overcome obstacles and the end result? The paralytic, their friend, becomes cured.

We all have friends who have scooped us up in our helplessness and carried us to the feet of Jesus.

I am reminded of the friends who have held me accountable for Sabbath even when I was afraid to stop, paralyzed by fear of something unknown. They would do whatever was necessary to help me find a Sabbath moment, a break in the day, or the opportunity to ask about my fear, before lowering me down to Jesus.

I’m reminded of the friends who ask me what I need and respond. They allow me to lie on my mat and whine in my confusion and frustration. They ask what they can do and they know that the only solution is to go to Jesus together.

There were also times when we found ourselves on our mats before the Lord without even knowing how we got there. Even at those times, there were friends who tore holes in roofs, pushed through crowds, and carefully laid us at Jesus feet without us even realizing they were present.

Faithful friends ask the hard questions and they know the path to Jesus. Who are the people who notice when you need to be carried?   Do you have friends who know how to get you to Jesus?  Look around today and see where you can cultivate a friendship.

Prayer: Full Serenity Prayer: (by Reinhold Niebuhr)

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that God will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with God
Forever and ever in the next.
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].

Monday September 26 2016

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 62

Key verses: (8-12)

8 Trust in him at all times, O people;

pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us.

9 Those of low estate are but a breath,

those of high estate are a delusion;

in the balances they go up;

they are together lighter than a breath.

10 Put no confidence in extortion,

and set no vain hopes on robbery;

if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken;

twice have I heard this:

that power belongs to God,

12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.

For you repay to all

according to their work.

Reflection: Life is often unfair, unjust, and insecure. It was in the psalmist’s day, in Jesus’ day, and it is in our world now. Foundations shake. Stability teeters. Usual and customary becomes unusual and unprecedented.  Normal and uneventful days are interrupted by accident, illness, and sometimes loud, angry, justice-seeking voices that disrupt our calm complacency. Voices, internal and external, clamor for attention, raising the volume and the stakes to claim our attention and allegiance.

To whom do we turn for guidance? Who do we trust when the world is changing and our anchors are slipping?

God’s people have always asked that question.  And they have also known the answer. Over and over again, in times of orientation and disorientation, the answer has been: trust in the Lord; God is our refuge; God is in control.

But this is not a passive, throwing up our hands, dependence on a parental figure. As the psalmist puts it: while the power belongs to God and we need to trust in God’s steadfast love, God still holds us accountable for our work in the world. In other words: If you are in a boat caught in a storm, pray for calm but row toward shore.

Prayer: Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord, and you are our refuge in difficult times. Help us to endure the challenge of difficult times while working to make our world into the kind of world you want it to be.  In the name of the sovereign, powerful Lord. 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].

Friday September 23 2016

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Scripture: (see hyperlinks in text below)

Reflection: In a week of violence and fear in our city, we turn to Scripture and find more evidence of the same. The readings for the daily lectionary today reveal how very deep divisions can be among human beings. From Esther 8:1-8, 15-17 comes the unraveling of a plot against the Jews, and revenge by hanging Haman the plotter. Subsequent rejoicing by the Jews leads to fear among people of other faiths. In Acts 19:21-41, we read of a riot in the middle of the city. Followers of Artemis protest against Paul’s travel companions and followers of Jesus. We read of rage and shouting and confusion. In Luke 4:31-37 Jesus heals a man of an unclean spirit. This comes immediately after he has read Scripture in his home synagogue in Nazareth and so upsets the crowd that they, in a rage, try to throw him off a cliff. Even the Psalms for this day speak in large part of victory over enemies.

The words from the daily readings I most need to hear today are these key verses from Psalm 148:

11  Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12  Young men and women alike,
old and young together!

13  Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.

God is able to heal divisions among people — divisions between kings and princes and rulers and all other people, between young and old, men and women, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Republican and Democrat, police and citizens. I can’t tell you how exactly. It’s clearly not an easy road. The people of God have struggled with it since the very beginning, and we struggle with it still. Any solution will come through painful, honest, difficult work, and reliance upon the Creator of us all. Today, may we praise the name of the Lord, and continue to pray for reconciliation, truth-telling, justice, and peace.

Prayer: (from leadership of the Presbytery of Charlotte for this week)

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that the barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 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].

 

Thursday September 22 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 116

Key verse: (1) “I love the LORD, because he hears my voice and my supplications.”

Reflection: There are times when it is natural to wonder if God hears our prayers — especially when life is interrupted by bad news like a devastating diagnosis or sudden loss.  Stressful news throws us off- balance. Often, our first response is to wish it away.   When this “wishing” doesn’t work, we turn to the resources of our faith.  Hopefully, when we do this, we discover that the cultivation of faith in the good times has equipped us for faith in the bad times.

I received an email a couple of weeks ago from a former colleague of mine.  He has struggled with a chronic condition for 10 years that prevents him from working or enjoying many of the activities that used to fill his life. This condition won’t ever go away — there is no cure — and he has learned to live with it.  Even in the midst of daily struggle he is able to be thankful for God’s salvation and live his life enjoying family and friends.  When I pray for him and his family, I am reminded of today’s words from the psalmist: “even though I was brought low, the LORD saved me”.  My friend is thankful because God has never left his side through the challenges of his illness. God can do the same thing for us when we are brought low by the challenges of life.  God can save us from despair and doubt when we travel through situations that scare us.

There may be something that is creating distress in your life right now.  You may feel God is very far away and you are alone.  Remember how precious your life is to God and those who love you.  Turn to God and remember God’s compassion for you.  Be patient.   God hears you and in time the answers and peace will come.  Knowing this will give you the ability to hold on and even, in time, give thanks.

Prayer:  Gracious God, life surprises us with things we don’t want.  There are times when we feel lost and afraid.  Remind us you are near.  Help us to pray for one another.  And, if there is someone we need to reach out to today, remind us to make that phone call or send that text.   May we strengthen each other on this journey that your love might be visible to all.  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 September 21 2016

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Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

Key verses: (1-2) Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Reflection: You ain’t no saint we all are sinners, soul singer Jill Scott sings, but she clearly ain’t singing about Jesus. Numerous times in scripture we read that Jesus was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21. Hebrews 4:15 are two references). But such proclamations don’t always bring explanations.  How can Jesus be fully human if he didn’t sin?  And if he didn’t sin how can we ever be like him?

In the early church there was a school of thought that taught Jesus only appeared human but wasn’t really (Docetists from the Greek word dokeo — appear).  This preserved Jesus from really dying as a human and suffering from the failing of frail flesh.  It’s a heresy to teach as he was fully, actually, human. But what about the no sin part?  We have taken that to mean that Jesus must have been handsome and strong (remember the Hot Jesus phenomenon?), that he was never upset, impatient, unkind or unwise.  We imagine that no sin means he also had no desire, no stirrings, no ambitions. I don’t think any of that is true.  How could he have been tempted otherwise? There are moments in the Bible where Jesus is impatient (he cursed the fig tree), unkind (called disciples foolish), cruel (he called a woman a dog, though later accepted her rebuttal).  There are moments when he’s scared, doubtful, weary.  He’s rude to his mother, non conforming and disinterested in social niceties.  He was human.

To be without sin doesn’t mean he always got it right and was first, correct, perfect, every time.  To be without sin means he was never separated from God.  He knew what it meant, despite fear and doubt, to utterly rely upon God.  He knew how to trust, discern, and follow God’s leading in every way, every time, anywhere.  He could love with God’s love and see with God’s sight.  He could avoid vengeance and hatred and give his life rather than try to take another’s.  He had a unity of heart, mind, purpose, will. He was one with God.

To be fully human is not to be perfect but rather to be in perfect union with God.

Jesus modeled it, and more importantly, invites us into it.  I cannot achieve perfect union with God after reading the Gospels anymore than I can play a Beethoven symphony on the piano no matter how many times I listen to it.  But I can participate in life with God, benefit from it, yearn for it, lean in to it, all because Jesus invites me into it and will go to any measure, by any means, for me to understand that.

Prayer: Grant me, most dear and loving Jesus, to rest in you above created things; above health and beauty, above all glory and honor; above all power and dignity, above all knowledge and skill; above all fame and praise, above all sweetness and consolation; above all hope and promise, above all merit and desire; above all things visible and invisible; and above everything that is not yourself, O my God.  (Thomas à Kempis)

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 September 20 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 146

Key verses: (3-4) Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

Reflection: The key verses are a little too long for a bumper sticker but in this election season, they seem timely. The campaign ads, the speeches, the pundits — if you’re like me, you might be ready for this to be over even though we have weeks left!

Apparently through all of time, God’s people have struggled to trust God and instead have placed their trust in earthly rulers.  Kings, dictators, presidents, emperors, prime ministers – the titles change but the truth that they are mortal doesn’t ever change.  If we aren’t careful we might begin to believe that the next president, or senator, or governor will be our savior. We might be wrapped up in the present moment and lose perspective of faith.  Our only hope is in the God of all creation. All other leaders are temporary and imperfect.  That truth doesn’t mean we should avoid political participation.  As Presbyterians we have a long history of engaging in politics as a way to honor the values of God’s kingdom.  We should research the candidates carefully, consider their positions in light of God’s grace, and vote for those we believe will govern fairly.  We do all of that knowing that ultimately our citizenship is in God’s kingdom and our only true lord is our God.

The psalm continues: “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers, he upholds the orphan and the widow but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”  How’s that for a campaign platform?

Prayer:  O God, teach me to trust in you when I am frustrated with the politics of our era.  Grant me wisdom and discernment as I listen to those around me. Give me a kingdom perspective that empowers me to be faithful.  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].

Monday September 19 2016

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Scripture: Luke 3:1-14

Key verses: (13-14) “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Reflection: John the Baptist just might be one of my favorite bibilcal characters. He is throwing out common sense wisdom. “If you have two coats, share with anyone that has none.” It is not only common sense but it is foundational gospel wisdom.  John also says to the tax collectors, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  John is a little bit crazy and he was known to be really loud. Crowds would gather around to listen to him because John was direct, blunt, practical, but also full of hope. John reminded them about the corrupt system and injustice all around but he showed them how to join God in bringing change where they were, right in that moment.

We usually read this passage in December as we prepare and wait for Christmas.  Our focus is on the arrival of a liberating king.  We busy ourselves with tasks to prepare for Christmas and we know we prepare for something and someone far greater.  In preparing, we often miss the message of joining God in building the kingdom right here, right now. John’s words are full of challenge for today. We can build a world of hope today. Let’s get to the work of justice and do some kingdom living. It really is just common sense.

Prayer:
Today is a new day.

To work for justice.

To love unconditionally.

To be satisfied.

Thanks be to God.  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].