Wednesday November 30 2016

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Scripture: Isa. 2:1-4

Key verse: (4)  4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more

Reflection:  I will pray for you. We must get together. Let’s do lunch one of these days. Would love to read that book.

You have said one of those things recently and you may have meant it and you may even have made it happen. But here’s the thing — you made it happen.  It didn’t happen by accident or because you wished it. It happened because, in the words of my friend’s mom, you applied the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and worked.

Little happens without effort and determination. So when Isaiah blesses our Advent journey with the long prayed for vision of nation never again making war against nation, notice the caveat.  The swords that nations no longer lift up and the spears that will never again be thrown are turned into farming implements. What was designed for fear, protection and destruction are transformed into that which can create, enable and bless — but not by accident.  They have to beat them.  They have to have purpose of mind, hearts with more trust than fear, and hands that are willing to let God’s kingdom reshape and repurpose their desires in order for this vision to hold.  No wishing in the world can bend steel and wood and iron and stone into something else.  You have to want it to happen and do everything you can to make it so.

What’s harder to reshape sometimes than a sword, however, is a human heart. Flesh and fear, blood and history combine in an alchemy to produce a stubborn, willful thing.  To transform that requires no less than the Creator of heaven and earth, the very one willing to make our hearts his home.   Let the Advent transformation continue.

Prayer: Demanding God, requiring repentance, cry out for us to turn around! Hear us as we confess our failure in working as much as wishing. Hear us as we confess our complacency and despair.  Hear us as we confess that we do not succeed in our efforts to resist evil. Hear us as we confess and in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, have mercy upon us all. 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].

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Tuesday November 29 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 85

Key verse: (10)  “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”

Reflection: Psalm 85 offers such beautiful imagery of the coming of God’s promised tomorrow. Verse 10 is my favorite. It contains the words most often associated with God: hesed (steadfast love,) amuna (faithfulness,) tzedekah (righteousness,) and shalom (peace.)  In his interpretation of the text in The Message, Eugene Peterson translates verse 10, “Love and truth meet in the street, Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!”  That is such a beautiful image.

Too often in our world these words compete, particularly “righteousness” and “peace.”  As a counselor once told a feuding couple, “You can either be right, or you can be married.”  That saying seems to put truth and love at odds.  The same could be said of righteousness and peace.  So often in our world these two goals are set at odds with one another.  One of our ordination vows is, “Do you promise to further the peace, unity and purity of the church?”  It’s really hard to do all three at once.  Fighting for purity often disturbs the peace if not the unity.

But Psalm 85 says, “Love and truth meet in the street … righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”  How can this be?  The Psalmist speaks of a day when these things will be, of God’s promised tomorrow brought by the coming of the Messiah.  As Christians, we believe that the advent of Jesus brings all this to the earth.  He is our peace.  He is our purity.  He is our unity.  In him, love and truth meet.  As John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”  In him, righteousness and peace kiss.  He embodies all these qualities.  In him, there is no “either-or,” but “both-and.”

In the meantime, we live in the dialectic tension of love and truth, righteousness and peace.  All four represent God’s hopes for us, yet it is so hard to know them all at the same time.  As we move through the Advent season, may we notice those moments in our lives when the tensions between these truths arise, and seek Christ’s presence in the midst of them.

Prayer: In the midst of life when we feel we must choose between love and truth, or being right and making peace, give us eyes to see your presence that we might know the blessing of all four. Come, Lord Jesus!  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].

Monday November 28 2016

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Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Key verse: (6) And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: Being an imitator gets a bad rap in our culture that values independence and individuality.  Certainly each of us is a unique child of God but we learn so much by imitating others.  I have taken courses in education but much of my teaching style comes from imitating my favorite teachers.  Musicians listen to a great master over and over again as they learn to play an instrument. Children imitate their parents, “shaving” like Dad or wearing Mom’s shoes to walk around the house. It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We imitate those we admire because, at some level, we know we want to be more like them.

So much of our faith is learned through imitation! When we baptize children in the church, we ask the parents “Relying on God’s grace, do you promise to live the Christian faith, and to teach that faith to your child?”  The primary way we teach faith to our children is by living out our own faith in daily life.  Our children watch us and they imitate us. They see our priorities in the way we use our time and our money. They know how we treat our neighbors, whether that is the older widow across the street or the waiter at the restaurant. They notice what we are doing in worship, if we are singing and praying or if we are reading emails on our phone.

Whether or not you have young children at home, you are being watched by those around you.  If you claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, does your life bear witness to that claim?  Would others want to imitate you? Are you imitating Christ? It’s the call to be a disciple.  Not just to follow behind Christ, or to study about Christ, but to be more like Christ in our daily lives.  We are called to imitate the Lord.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to imitate you in everything I do, everything I say, and everything I am. Shape my character daily to be more like you.  In this Advent season, give me role models in faith who encourage and inspire me. In your holy 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].

Friday November 25 2016

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Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

Key verses: (37-38) As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Reflection: The day after Thanksgiving, we need a good travel narrative.  Usually read on Palm Sunday to make the journey into Holy Week, today the words from Luke prepare us for Advent.  At the Thanksgiving dinner table, I realized that we continue to live in post-election conversations.  We say we want unity but each of us are hungry for more political, social, and economic power.  As Christians, we need to hear the narrative of the Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey.

Our scripture today is not merely a rebuke of a country that seeks power and domination but our own individual ambition to dominate others on the basis of power rather than love. Regardless of our political party, all of our pride, arrogance, self-centered ambition and self-seeking are brought out into the open. We take pride and become arrogant in judging the others whether in public or in the privacy of our own thoughts. In the presence of the one who rides a donkey, all feelings of superiority, competitiveness, and our power struggles become all too evident. Jesus on a donkey calls us into accountability, if indeed we are serious about following him.

There is another aspect to this travel narrative.   It is the preparation for something new.  We are traveling to the time when we have no idea what awaits us and yet we know exactly what is coming — new life and the promise of peace. There is a lot of good news in this Scripture. There is a lot of good news coming. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, we are following your Son. Seriously. 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].

Thursday November 24 2016

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Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-23

Key verses: (15-19) I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Reflection:  On this Thanksgiving Day we make a concerted effort to give thanks for all the things for which we can be grateful. As we become aware of the many people in our neighborhoods, our country, and our world that do not have even the basics to sustain and nurture life, we can surely give thanks for a roof over our heads, warmth in our homes, food on our tables, and having cars and the means to travel to family and friends near and far.

But also today I am prompted by the author of the letter to the Ephesians who gave thanks for the people that made up the community of faith and all those who had offered their love and care. It makes me think of all the people whose lives intersect with ours that make our lives, if not easier, more bearable.

So, today, I give thanks for:

  • the retail clerks working long and very odd hours to serve us, especially those
  • working holiday hours in interstate gas stations and in restaurants
  • delivery truck drivers who make sure our gifts to a loved one arrive on time
  • mail carriers who keep us connected to the  larger community
  • technical support staff who patiently ensures our internet connection is working so
  • we can travel around the world from an office desk
  • drivers who let us pull into the main flow of traffic
  • waitresses who tell us to have a good day and mean it
  • children at church on Sunday who are glad to see you
  • adults who call you by name and greet you with a smile
  • friends whose constancy is not diminished by the passing years
  • friends who stick with us when we are down
  • all those who celebrate our joys and successes
  • colleagues and co-workers who join in a common task
  • spouses, children, and grandchildren who give each day meaning and purpose

For all these people, and many more, who have helped us be who we are and where we are, let us give thanks to them and to God.

Prayer: We do not cease to give thanks, O God, for all those we remember in our prayers – everyone whose life touches our own in large and small ways. May our gratitude be verbal and visible on this and every day. 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].

Wednesday November 23 2016

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Scripture: Luke 19:1-10

Key verses: (2-4) 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.

Reflection: I love telling the story of Zaccheus to children. Most of them can relate to someone short. They have all been behind someone tall blocking their view.  They want to sympathize with Zaccheus because they understand the impulse to climb that sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. But Zaccheus is not a particularly sympathetic character. He has cheated others  and lined his own pockets while collecting taxes for the empire. The people call him out as a sinner. Still, Jesus chooses to stop and call him down from the tree and dine with him. We hear Zaccheus tell Jesus that he will repay others, and give half of his possessions to the poor. We don’t know if that actually happens, but clearly Jesus believes in Zaccheus.

He’s a great example to us that what Jesus thinks about someone is not as clear-cut as we might like. We prefer to have easy delineations between who’s in and who’s out. We like to call someone good and someone else bad. It’s easier that way. Jesus isn’t so quick to judge in this story. Zaccheus is a mixed bag of motivations, like all the rest of us. He likes money, and works in ways that benefit him and his pocketbook at the expense of others – bad (but sounds uncomfortably familiar). He is interested in Jesus and goes out of his way to see him – good (but climbing trees is a little much.)  He listens to Jesus and has his heart changed – very good (but it means his lifestyle has to change…wait, is mine supposed to change too?!)

Perhaps we need to develop some of Jesus’ ability to see people in all their messiness. If we are followers of Jesus, perhaps we need to be seeking out those who are not so sympathetic, instead of hanging out with others who are like us.  And perhaps we might think more about how to give others a glimpse of Jesus, instead of blocking their way. Then everyone’s hearts might be changed in remarkable ways.  Maybe even our own.

Prayer: Lord, I want to see you, and follow you. Forgive me when my own messiness complicates things. Help me be less quick to judge others. Help me offer a glimpse of Jesus in and through me. Change my heart, and teach me to love as you love. In your 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 November 22 2016

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Scripture: I Corinthians 3:10-23

Key verse: (16) “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Reflection: Paul built the church in Corinth and he describes his work using metaphors. The first metaphor he uses is agricultural — he planted the seeds, Apollos watered, and Christ made the Church grow.  But, in today’s passage he used a different metaphor to describe the Church. He stated that as an expert builder he laid a foundation that each of them was building on and that foundation is Jesus Christ.  He cautions them not to think more of themselves than they should because one day their work will be tested and shown for what it is.  Paul reminds them that he laid a strong foundation based on the enduring foundation of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we get sidetracked building up the Church.  We become impressed by the resources we have, the programs we offer, the care we provide, the benevolent work we are able to do, the beautiful facilities we enjoy.  While all of these things are used in service to Christ, we may miss the foundational reality that Paul sets before us – we are the temple of God, the Church.  The people, not the stuff, is what’s important because the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us.  So, we don’t need to boast or brag about what we are able to do.  We simply need to let God use us in service to Jesus Christ.

Remember that God’s spirit lives in you.  Remember how valuable you are to God.   How might this change your decisions and actions today?

Prayer: Loving God, we thank you for the grace you offer us.  Help us to live in such a way that others might see a glimpse of Jesus Christ living within us.  Remind us that we are of more value than the standards and wisdom of the world that can get in the way of serving you.  We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. 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].