Friday February 17 2017

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Scripture: Mark 12:28-34

Key verse: (34) “When Jesus saw that he answered wisely he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Reflection: There are all kinds of questions.  We ask questions to learn and gain information.  We ask questions to test someone’s knowledge.  We ask questions to prove someone is wrong or prove ourselves right.  The source of our questions can come from mixed motives.  Jesus was asked all kinds of questions — some by religious leaders, some by the disciples, some by earnest seekers who were looking for compassion and hope. In our text today, a scribe decided to ask Jesus a question because he was impressed by him. The scribe’s question: “Which commandment is the first of all?” was an easy question to answer for any observant Jew at that time.  From the beginning of the history of Israel, it was made very clear that the Lord God is one, to be loved with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  Jesus’ answered with the Shema Israel  — the centerpiece of morning and evening prayers in Judaism.  The word Shema means “hear”.  Morning and night, Israel was (and is to this day) called to hear that the Lord God is one and Israel was called to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.  Jews were to say this prayer and teach it to their children so they would never forget who God was and is.  For this reason, this became the most important of all prayers.

Jesus answers the scribe correctly, but the scribe already knew the answer to his question. Yet, he asked it anyway.  Why?  Was the scribe impressed by Jesus but needed to test Jesus’ orthodoxy?  Or did the scribe need a platform to show his approval of Jesus without making himself suspect to others in the religious establishment?  We will never know for sure.  However, it is the last part of the scribe’s statement that I find interesting.  He makes an editorial comment about Jesus’ answer quoting themes found in the Psalms and the prophets.  He says that loving God and loving neighbor are more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.  That is, loving God is more important than anything else that we might do in worship or programs or personal piety.  Without love, everything else we do is empty.  This invites us to examine our motives.  Why do we do what we do? Is it because we love God and neighbor?  Or do we like to put on a show and attract attention to ourselves?  Loving God and loving others is all about God – not us.  While we are inspired by God to share God’s love, it’s important to remember to keep God at the center.  God wants a humble and contrite heart.  Jesus affirms what the scribe says.  We can only imagine how incredible it was for the scribe to hear he was not far from the kingdom of God.  What a powerful affirmation of his faith and Jesus’ ministry.  As we seek to live out the commandment to love God and neighbor, let’s focus on what really matters to God.

Prayer:  Lord God, we submit to your love.  Help us to love you with sincere and humble hearts that we might live out your commands in such a way that others are drawn to you.  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 February 16 2017

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Scripture: Mark 12:13–27

Key verse: (17) 17Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’  And they were utterly amazed at him.

Reflection: In seminary I had a friend who had two Bibles.  One was her class Bible that had furiously scribbled notes and underlined texts as we parsed and dug deep into spiritual truth and historical context.  The other Bible was her devotional Bible, kept clean of notes and free of any rigorous study.  This was the Bible she prayed with and read at day’s beginning and day’s end.  I think she was missing the point. We don’t live in two worlds but bring to this world all of ourselves so that God can use every gift given.

In today’s text, Jesus is not setting up two opposing kingdoms, one ruled by God, one by Caeser, and we have to figure out where and when we live in each. That would be giving an awful lot of power to Caeser. When Jesus looks at the coin he sees that Caesar’s face marks the coin.  Clearly that is Caesar’s. What is marked by Caeser belongs to Caeser. But, what is marked by God, let that be God’s.

There’s the rub is it not?  Have you ever met someone that did not bear the mark of God?  True you sometimes have to look awhile, but it is there.  We were created in the image of God everyone of us and I have yet to discover a piece of land, a patch of sky, a ripple of water that did not in some way point to the mark and glory of God.

If we gave to God everything that was God’s, gulp, we would need to give…

Prayer: God our Creator, your love is at work in all that you have made.

Son of God, in your likeness we are made new.

Holy Spirit, you touch our lives with hope.

Receive our efforts this day and claim us for your service.

Give us words to praise you, love to serve you, joy in sharing you.

Set us free to delight and trust in you.

May we be caught up in all your wonder and mystery, for your kingdom and power are so much greater than us.

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].

 

Wednesday February 15 2017

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Scripture: Mark 11:27-12:12

Key verse: (11:28) “By what authority are you doing these things?”

Reflection: We live in a time when authority at every level is in question. From civil authority to political authority to institutional authority to religious authority, every authority is under question from some sector of our society.

What constitutes an authority for you? Media used to be authoritative for us. In the good old days, Walter Cronkite concluded the news broadcast by saying, “And that’s the way it is.” And by golly, it was. Can you imagine that today? Some would buy it, others would say, “So says the liberal media!” Others would say, “No it is not!”  We can change the channel until we find a version of the news that supports what we already believe. Who decides what is authoritative? I do. In our world, the individual has become the ultimate authority.

That was not the case in first century Judea. Authority was clearly defined and everyone knew who had it and who didn’t.  Jesus did not have any formal authority.  So the authorities challenge him. But over and over again, Mark tells us that the crowds are in awe of Jesus, because, “he speaks as one who has authority, and not as the scribes and Pharisees.”

Something about Jesus usurps all authority. He needs no worldly acknowledgement, yet there’s something about him that exudes authority, and everyone recognizes it. The crowds recognize it, and so do the authorities.

So in our world, where the authority has increasingly been shifted to the individual, the question we face is this: how is Jesus our ultimate authority?

Prayer: “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief. 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].

 

Tuesday February 14 2017

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Scripture: Mark 11:12-26

Key verse: (15) Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.

Reflection: Happy Valentine’s Day! We associate this day with romantic love and gifts of candy and flowers. The origins of the day go back to the early Christian church as a day to honor one or more saints named Valentinus. There are several legends and stories about those saints that inspired the holiday.  You can read more about those here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine’s_Day

As I read the Scripture passages assigned for today, I was looking for love.  Maybe some beautiful poetry or some words of encouragement.  Instead I found this passage from Mark, the story of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem. I confess this isn’t the Jesus I want to encounter on Valentine’s Day. Jesus is challenging and tough. He has a temper. He is an activist. He sees something that is wrong and he addresses it right away.

Sometimes we mistakenly believe that Christian love never rocks the boat and never upsets the apple cart.  We domesticate love so that it is non-confrontational. We reinforce the status quo, even when it isn’t just, rather than challenge the powers to change.  That isn’t love.  Love changes the world by working for justice. Love fights oppressive systems that create unnecessary burdens. Love stands up to the powerful when they misuse their power. Love speaks up for the silenced.  Sometimes love overturns the tables in order to make the world a better place.

Prayer: “Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right side or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your best side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition, but I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so we can make of this old world a new world.  Amen.”   (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

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 February 13 2017

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Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

Key verses: (8-11) 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple

Reflection: Growing up just outside of New Orleans, I have participated in a few funerals that were accompanied by a jazz parade. The jazz funeral celebrates life at the moment of death and ushers in the deceased with music, dance and even joyous laughter.  A funeral is an unlikely source for a festive tradition and it invites people to see and live in the world in a new way. The second line musicians lead this tradition and challenge all that we know about funerals, the dominant social order and the expected.

Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem was like a jazz funeral, challenging the expected. We have shouted “Hosanna” so often with the crowd on Palm Sunday that we no longer glimpse the subversive nature of this parade.  Jesus rode on a donkey, which princes rode when they wanted to signify peace.  Did the crowd know to whom they were addressing as they shouted “hosanna”? In Mark, the crowd is blessing Jesus as “the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” heir to the throne and not the one who brings peace.

Jesus is inviting the crowd, and us, to see and live in this world in a new way. Jesus entered Jerusalem lamenting their inability to understand the way of peace but he continued with the parade. His life and ministry was not about the expected, but about a love so great that even death could not destroy it.

Prayer: God, help me to rely on love, your love, to be my guide and my understanding today. In the name of the one who continues to disorient and reorient. 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].

Friday February 10 2017

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Scripture: Mark 10:32-45

Key verses:  (42-45) 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Reflection: The gospels portray the original disciples in their profoundly human form.  They, like us, are inclined to want the benefits of following Jesus ­­­­­­without counting the costs.

In Mark’s Gospel, right after Jesus predicted he would suffer, die, and rise again, James and John had a bold request.  “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  Wow!

I remember a time when one of my small children had a similar request, “Daddy, will you please say yes?” And that was before a question had been asked.  Or the husband says to his spouse, “whatever I ask, say yes.” Bold!

If that weren’t enough, James and John wanted Jesus to guarantee them positions of status and power.  Of course, this offended the other disciples and perplexed Jesus. Jesus told them, “You do not know what you are asking.” You will have to suffer as I will suffer.  Are you able to do that?  In their arrogance they said, “Yes, we are able.”

Then Jesus proclaims the great reversal: whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

Greatness, status, and power come not from privilege or position — not from the accumulation of shiny objects, or the envy of others. Greatness, in God’s kingdom, is through self-sacrificing service to all whom God loves. Those who want to be first must put others first.

Bold? Absolutely. Counter-intuitive? Definitely. Challenging? Jesus bet his life on it.

Prayer: Help us restrain our selfish yearnings, O God. Help us to understand what following you requires.  Give us courage to serve, to sacrifice, and to give ourselves to others and to your work in the world.  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].

Thursday February 9 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11

Key verse: (1)

Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

Reflection: I had a moment during our staff worship last week.  Something about the hymn just got to me. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t come to our gathering with a heavy heart, or with particular joy, either. But one of the verses of our hymn just knocked me over, and I had to stop singing.  To be honest, I don’t remember now what hymn it was or what the words said. I just know that in that moment, I was overwhelmed with the power of singing together with others, a song of worship to God.

In this Psalm, the Psalmist affirms the goodness of praising God in song, and then tells us why we should. We sing to God because the powerful God of the universe, our Creator, is also the compassionate God who gathers us in, the broken-hearted and the wounded, and binds up our wounds. When we gather to worship together, whether on a Sunday, or a church staff meeting, or with one or two others in a prayer group or Bible Study, we give thanks for God’s amazing grace. We sit or stand next to one another– young and old, strong and weak, joyful and confused, and offer our praise to the God who invites us all in.  Some of us can sing loudly one week, and others of us might weep through the music on that day. So we sing on behalf of one another, when we are able.

I know that some of us think we can’t sing. So we keep silent during the music. Let me challenge you, even if you can’t carry a tune: sing to God anyway. Your voice of praise, out of tune or not, is the music of worship. God is gracious. A song of praise is fitting.

Prayer: Compassionate God, you gather us together as your people in worship. Hear us when we sing your praise aloud in song. Strengthen us when the words catch in our throats. Bless our songs of praise as we offer our thanks for all your grace. We pray and sing in the name of Christ Jesus 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].