Monday October 31 2016

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Scripture: Revelation 14:1-13

Key verse: (13) “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” says the Spirit, “they rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

Reflection: Happy Halloween!  In this day and age it may seem strange for the church devotional to begin with these words. In the culture wars some label Halloween as a celebration of the devil and a “dangerous dabbling in the spirit world.”  While our culture has certainly distorted this holiday, its roots are actually found in Christianity.

Tomorrow is All Saints’ Day in Western Christianity, a day when we remember those who have died in faith and celebrate the connection between the earthly church and the church triumphant. This day has been recognized in Western Christianity since at least the 8th century of the common era. We will give thanks for all those members of our congregation who have died in the past year this coming Sunday in worship.

Another name for All Saints’ Day is All Hallows’ Day—to honor those “hallowed” in our lives.  The night before All Hallows’ Day is All Hallows’ Eve—from whence we derive the word “Halloween.”  In Christian tradition this night has been a vigil in preparation for All Saints’ Day. Like other Christian holy days, (Christmas, Easter), over time it has blended with secular celebrations, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with Christian faith. Yet, as Christians, we recognize that faith offers a distinctive view of such holidays, reminding us of their root in holy days.

At a graveside service the central moment of the liturgy is the committal. Traditionally these words are said as the pastor places his or her hand at the head of the coffin: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to almighty God our brother/sister, and we commit his/her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  And then the final verse of today’s reading from Revelation is said, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, says the Spirit. They rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

On this All Hallows’ Eve, may we take a moment to remember all those in our lives who have gone to the church triumphant. May we endeavor to remember the best in them, that they might inspire the best in us. Ultimately, that’s what All Hallows’ is all about!

Prayer: Eternal God, neither death nor life can separate us from your love. Grant that we may serve you faithfully here on earth, and in heaven rejoice with all your saints who ceaselessly proclaim your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.  (from the Book of Common Worship)

Author: Joe Clifford

[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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Friday October 28 2016

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Scripture: Luke 12:13-31

Key verse: (21) So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.

Reflection: Sometimes I am asked how we choose the verses for these daily email devotions. We (the pastors who write them) use the daily lectionary for our verses. A lectionary is a listing of assigned readings. The daily lectionary has assigned Scripture readings for each day: psalms, an Old Testament passage, a Gospel passage, and another New Testament passage.  Each writer can choose which one of the day’s passages to use as the basis for the devotion.

So today’s gospel passage is about Jesus challenging the crowd not to store up possessions for themselves. I read it and laugh because this Sunday in worship we celebrate our financial commitments made to God. What a great sense of humor God has when these “coincidences” appear!

In this passage Jesus tells a parable about a man who had an abundant harvest. The rich man talks to himself in the parable (this is the only parable in which a character talks only to himself and that might be a clue for us about what happens when we focus on riches and not relationships). He decides to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store his crops.  God speaks to the rich man, warning him that he is foolish because that very night he will die and his riches will be useless to him. This is also the only parable in which God appears as a character and interacts with someone directly.  That might be another clue for us, cautioning us that concerns about money and possessions are so serious that God will intervene in the story.

As we prepare to give our gifts and make our pledges to God, this parable raises questions for me.  Do I really need more, or do I just “want” more, and why do I want it?  Am I accumulating for the sake of having more or because there is a godly purpose for my things?  Am I returning a faithful portion to God (the Bible suggests 10%) or am I holding on to keep more than God intended for me? Am I rich towards God or am I storing up treasure that will one day be useless to me?

Prayer: Holy One, you have entrusted so much for me to manage. Sometimes I forget that it belongs to you. I can be greedy and selfish. Remind me that all that I have is yours and give me the trust I need to return to you a faithful portion. In Jesus’ name 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].

Thursday October 27 2016

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Scripture: Luke 12:1-12

Key verses: (1-3) Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

Reflection: There is nothing more annoying than someone pretending to a person of faith when they are not. We might have some insight into daily actions that speak to a “double life” or their hypocrisy. There are some people that say they do not come to church because the church is made up of hypocrites.

That is only one type of hypocrisy. In this passage Luke brings to light the reverse form of hypocrisy where pretending NOT to be a disciple is the reality.  This is a hypocrisy that does not pretend to be a person of faith but pretends not to be. Believers should not hesitate to share the good news.

People of faith should not be intimidated into silence. The voice of the church and the voice of people of faith are pressured to remain silent because it is too political, too secular an audience, or even because it is not the right time or place. Our voice can bring testimony to the grace, mercy, and peace offered by a God of justice. Let us not keep silent.

Prayer: God, you sent your Son Jesus to lead a revolution of love. He did not remain silent but offered good news. May we join the revolution and speak out with our lives and our love as a witness to you. In the name of the one who leads us.  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 October 26 2016

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Scripture: Luke 11:37-52

Key verses: (42, 45)

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. … 45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.”

Reflection: I love that Jesus loves us. I really don’t like that Jesus calls out our less than faithful living. Jesus loved the disadvantaged–all those on the margins. Jesus also loved the rich, affluent leaders. To the marginalized Jesus brought hope and promise. To those at the top of that social system Jesus brought acceptance, but also challenge. Challenge, especially to those in positions of privilege, can feel like an insult.

As you can see from today’s passage there were influential people back then who took Jesus’ words as an insult, an affront to their identity as religious people. But I think Jesus was calling them to a more integrated life where what they said corresponded with what they did. That is the kind of life that gives life. That’s the kind of life that allows us to live out of the rich blessings God has given us. But we are inclined to ignore the weightier matters and pursue the inconsequential.

When the Apostle Paul talks about offering our bodies as a living sacrifice he is talking about offering our whole, integrated selves to God. We have a hard time doing that consistently. But the God who loves the whole world sent Jesus to show us that God’s love is for the disadvantaged and the advantaged, the poor and the rich. Whether God’s word to you today is comfort or challenge, it is for you — a word of love.

Prayer: Comfort us, O God, when we need your love. Challenge us, O God, when you need all of us. In things small and great may we honor you! In Jesus’ name we pray. 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 October 25 2016

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Scripture: Luke 11:27-36

Key verses: (33-36)

33″No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.34Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. 35Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. 36If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.”

Reflection: These words from Jesus come at just the right time as we progress through the last weeks of a particularly divisive election season. Television, social media, and mailboxes are inundated with negative ads, and repetitive images and sound bites. I find myself looking and listening even when I don’t want to; even when I know what I will hear will raise my heart rate, my blood pressure, and my frustration level. There is a sense of darkness that has developed around this election, and between candidates and their supporters. Maybe it’s always a bit this way, but something feels different this time.

This scripture passage comes in the middle of a longer discourse that has some divisive rhetoric in it as well, even from Jesus. There is condemnation and name-calling: “hypocrite”, “foolish”, “an evil generation.” Yet in the middle of all that is this call from Jesus to keep our eyes healthy, and full of light.  I’d go further and suggest that our ears, too, need some attention. Can we follow Jesus in these next weeks by looking and listening for the light, rather than more darkness?

I’m going to turn off the constant flow of political information and have some set-apart time for words, pictures, and sounds of joy and hope and peace. I might even share some of that light, setting it on a lampstand, so that others can see through the darkness too. So here’s my offering for today: a video of images of light, with Yo Yo Ma on the cello, and James Taylor singing “Here Comes the Sun.” Enjoy.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes and ears to your light. May I be one who shares your light with others. Fill my conversations in these next days and weeks with light and your love. I pray in the name of your Son, the Prince of Peace, and Light of the World, Jesus Christ. 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 October 24 2016

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Scripture: Jonah 1:17-2:10

Key verse: (9) “But I with a voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you”

Reflection: God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and cry out against the city for their wickedness, but he didn’t want to go.  So he hopped on a ship to Tarshish to get as far away as he could. But God wouldn’t let him get away so through a storm and a casting of lots that led him to be cast overboard, Jonah found himself in the belly of a whale, (“great fish,” in Hebrew, but I’m no marine biologist!)

Sitting in the belly of that whale, Jonah utters this beautiful prayer of thanksgiving about the deliverance of the Lord.  If I were sitting in the digestive system of a great fish, I’m not sure a prayer of thanksgiving would be the first thing to come to my lips, yet that’s what Jonah does.  He thanks God for deliverance.  He thanks God for hearing his cry. In the midst of the fish, he offers praise and thanksgiving and concludes, “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.”  In response to all God has done, he professes his thanksgiving and pledges his offering, affirming his faith, “Deliverance belongs to the Lord.”

Sounds like a great stewardship story to me. God calls, but Jonah runs.  God refuses to give up, (kind of like the Stewardship follow-up team!)  Jonah finally recognizes God’s blessings in his life and makes his pledge, giving thanks and praise, affirming his faith in God’s power for salvation.  End of story, right?

But the rest of the story is not an inspirational stewardship devotional. Jonah continues to be a reluctant prophet, hoping for Nineveh’s destruction. His motives are clearly mixed throughout the story.  We can’t help but wonder if his prayer in the belly of the whale was simply about self-preservation and not about faithfulness.  Yet God’s power for redemption works in ways beyond Jonah’s capacity to understand. God’s vision is always greater than ours. Yet God used Jonah, even in his reluctance, to change the world.

In the midst of the belly of the whale, what is your prayer?  What would your pledge be?  Though like Jonah, your motives may be muddled, could you imagine God using you and your commitment to change the world?  As we near Commitment Sunday, give it a try and see what God can do.

Prayer: “With the voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to you, O God. What I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[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 October 21 2016

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Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

Key verses: (41-42) “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Reflection: The story of Mary and Martha comes at the end of a series of stories about the rejection and acceptance of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus is received warmly by two sisters who offer him hospitality in their home.  We often hear references to Mary and Martha that distort the underlying message of this passage.  We have labeled both Martha and Mary with different temperament types.  Martha is cast as a Type A who works hard and doesn’t know when to stop and Mary is cast as a Type B who takes a laid-back approach to life.  Unfortunately, these labels get in the way of the point of this story. Because we don’t understand the role of hospitality in the Bible we apply modern temperament types to Mary and Martha.

To the Middle Eastern culture the lack of hospitality Martha shows would be clearly understood. She frets over the preparations for dinner at the expense of her guest.  Of course, there were things to do in preparation for the meal. However, when the tasks that needed to be accomplished got in the way of being with a guest hospitality was broken. On the other hand, Mary chose to focus on her guest (Jesus).

The Greek word Luke uses for Martha’s worry and distraction is best translated as anxious and troubled.  This word is used elsewhere to mean being caught up in the entanglements of life in the world.  Martha, in her preoccupation with dinner and her resentment toward her sister, ends up drawing Jesus into a family fight over who does what.

While Martha’s work was important, it would cease. Mary’s receptivity to Jesus’ teaching, however, was something that could not be taken away from her.

Most of us have an endless list of things to do, but if spending time with Jesus, receiving him as a guest into our lives, and listening to his teachings aren’t a priority, where does that leave us?

This Stewardship season we have been invited to reflect on Paul’s words from the letter to the Romans:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (v.2) This kind of renewal invites us to receive Jesus as a guest in our lives.  When we do we will discover the better part which cannot not be taken away.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to cultivate a deep and sustaining relationship with you and not be distracted by the busyness of our lives.  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].