Friday March 31 2017

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Scripture: Rom. 8:28–39

Key verses: (38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Reflection:  There are many magnificent passages in Scripture – the Ten Commandments, the 23rd Psalm, the Beatitudes, John 3:16, the Great Commandment – all memorable and profoundly express the core our religious tradition.

But, at least in my mind, outside of Jesus’ own words to us, there is none more magnificent, more inspiring, more comforting, more grace-filled than Paul’s words to the church in Rome found in Romans chapter 8.  Paul wrote to the church in Rome even though he hadn’t been there.  In his letter, he wanted to lay out a coherent case for believing that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. He laid out his arguments logically and tried to anticipate the hearer’s likely objections. But, in what can only be described as an experience of divine inspiration, Paul became more than a theologian and a logical thinker. He became a prophetic poet.

In soaring language, he proclaims with absolute certainty the all-encompassing and sovereign love of God toward US! Moving from logical argument to the language of passionate love, he proclaims that in every circumstance of life God is working for the good, overcoming every barrier between us and God, and ensuring that nothing, on earth or in heaven, will ever separate us from the love of God.

Hold on to this. In good times, and especially in bad, Paul’s words will anchor you and sustain you.

Hold on to this.

For I am convinced

that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers,

nor height, nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us

from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Prayer: Your steadfast love endures forever, O God. Help us to believe, to trust, to hold on to your love which will never let us go. In the name of love embodied, Jesus the Christ, 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].

 

Thursday March 30 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 27

Key verses: (13-14)

13  I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
14   Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

Reflection: In a small village in France, the Taize community welcomes visitors from around the world. Founded just before World War II by Brother Roger, the community initially provided a place of refuge for children and for German POWs. Now, over 100 brothers, Catholic and from a variety of Protestant backgrounds from all around the world, provide a place of reconciliation and worship to thousands of pilgrims, young and old, each week. Worship is central to Taize, and the style of music is distinct. Brother Roger said this, about the simple contemplative style of music that characterizes Taize worship:

“Nothing is more conducive to a communion with the living God than a meditative common prayer with, at its high point, singing that never ends and that continues in the silence of one’s heart when one is alone again. When the mystery of God becomes tangible through the simple beauty of symbols, when it is not smothered by too many words, then prayer with others, far from exuding monotony and boredom, awakens us to heaven’s joy on earth.”

These are not songs and prayers to rush through, but to settle into. Hear, sing, and pray along with this Taize song, from our Psalm for the day. Though originally an Advent song, it speaks to us during these long weeks of Lent as well. May it accompany you through your day, and become a way of listening to God expectantly during this season.

Prayer: Lord, help me rest in you. Help me seek you. Help me wait for you. In the name of Christ, 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].

 

Wednesday March 29 2017

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Scripture: John 6:27-40

Key verse: (35) “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Reflection: People chase after many things looking to satisfy the longing in their souls. But, only God can nourish us in the deepest recesses of our being.  How often do we get trapped into thinking that we can find what we are longing for without God?  How often do we want to go our own way and be fed by something that is only a temporary fix?  Jesus uses the metaphor of true bread to describe a spiritual food.  It is not the literal bread we eat to nourish our bodies — the bread that we make.  Rather it is the true bread of heaven that only God can offer.  It is bread that quiets the hunger in our souls.  The true bread is not the bread of temporary fixes and self-gratifying solutions.  It is the life-giving assurance of eternal life with God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus tells us that this is the will of God:  all who see the Son and believe in him will have eternal life.  When we feast on the true bread, all our striving will cease and we will know that Jesus knows us and we know him.  Contentment, peace, and profound joy can be found when we eat of this heavenly bread, this spiritual food.

Prayer: Holy God, help us to trust in you.  When we struggle with our hunger and thirst for earthly things, remind us that you offer the bread of life so that we will never be hungry again.  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].

Tuesday March 28 2017

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Scripture: Romans 7:13-25

Key verse: (15 ) I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Reflection: My recipe for a great start to the day is to get up before the sun and head to the wellness Outreach center to workout.  After a good sweat and hot shower, I walk out of that building smiling as I watch the sun rise and smell the sweet Carolina air, knowing that I already have a win for the day.   I’m not sure my feet even touch the parking lot pavement — I’m so light and pure.  I absolutely love this feeling, so of course I go the Outreach center every single morning.  Well, almost every day.  Ok. I am absolutely there once a week.  When I’m around.  And not too tired.  Why did I even start to write this?…

Whether we are trying to do what feels good or attempting to do what is good we run into the same obstacle: ourselves.  Why is that?  Freud said we all have a death drive.  Joseph Campbell said we might be on the wrong path if trouble keeps occurring.  My rugby coach just called it being lazy.  Mom said it’s a lack of focus.

Paul calls it sin.

Knowing may be half the battle but that also means there is half a battle left to fight and we don’t always do what we know we need to do, want to do, and we are left wondering what in heaven’s name can we do?!  All of us, at the peak of our game or in the waning of our days, the taut or the tired, the working hard or hardly working, we are all of us frail flesh.  And as we learn early on in Genesis chapter three, sin is lurking at the door and damned if we don’t let in (and maybe we could also say let it out) more times than we can count.

The early church referred to followers of Jesus as people of the Way.  I am never unmoved by that.  We are on the Way.  It’s a long and dusty way sometimes but we are never by ourselves.  There is the One who manages to be beside us, before us, and always a little bit ahead of us.  He’s picking us up and getting us back at it.

Prayer: Lord: Help me, help me, help me.  Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.  Amen. (prayer by Anne Lamott)

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].

Monday March 27 2017

Monday

Scripture: Romans 7:1-12

Key verse: (4) “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

Reflection: Today’s reading is within a section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome where he deals with the law as it relates to Christians.  In the first five chapters of Romans, Paul has made a persuasive argument that we are justified by the grace of God through the faith of Jesus Christ.  That is, we are brought into right relationship with God not by works of law, not by anything we do, but rather by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  This assertion created a problem for Paul—what about the law?  Chapter 6 begins, “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  In other words, if we are justified by grace, then what difference does it make if we sin?  Paul answers his own question, “By no means!  How can we who have died to sin continue living in it?”

Here at the beginning of chapter 7, Paul carries forward the metaphor of death, relating it not to sin, but to the law.  He identifies the church as, “you who have died to the law through the body of Christ.”  So in Paul’s logic, we are dead to sin, and now dead to the law.  This creates another problem for Paul—linking sin with the law.  He asks, “What then should we say?  That the law is sin?” Once again, Paul answers his own question: “By no means!”  He goes on to say that sin uses even a good thing, like the law, to distort us and harm us.

How exactly does that work?  Traditionally, Christian theology has asserted that one of the functions of the law is to convict us of our sin, and our need for grace.  Using some of Paul’s own words it is asserted that no one can live by the law, and so we are convicted of our sin.  But I’m not sure that’s what Paul was saying.  In fact, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul asserts that “as to righteousness under the law,” he was, “blameless.” (Phil. 3:4b-6) In other words, he followed the law perfectly.  Paul’s challenge was not whether we could live by the law—he believed we absolutely could—but rather whether living by the law justified us to God.  Could living by the law bring us into right relationship with God and with one another?

Therein lies the problem.  In Paul’s own life, as to righteousness under the law, he was blameless.  Where did it get him?  It led him to persecute the church, to supervise the stoning of Stephen.  It led him to that moment on the Damascus Road where he was confronted by the Risen Christ who asked him, “Why do you persecute me?”  He thought he was defending God by bringing justice to heretics.  But in reality, he was persecuting God by killing God’s servants.  Living by the law did not make him right with God and with his neighbor.  It led him to be self-righteous, which was in fact sin.  His zeal to follow the law became its own sin.

And so, as Paul will conclude at the end of tomorrow’s reading from Romans (7:25), only the grace of God in Jesus Christ can make us right with God.  Paul’s ethic grows from this conviction—If by grace, God has made things right with us through the faith of Jesus Christ, then that grace calls us to live in right relationship with one another.  That’s the overarching ethical command of all of Paul’s letters.  Or as Paul writes to the Romans, “you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.”

Prayer: Thank you for making things right with us, O God.  Free us from the self-righteousness that too often divides us from one another that we might live into the new reality you have created in Christ.  In Him, we belong not to ourselves, but to you.  May we bear the fruit of love, justice, and mercy for your sake. 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 March 24 2017

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Scripture: Romans 6:1-11

Key verse: (11) So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: At the core of our faith is a startling challenge to the world’s understanding of morality.  The world often assumes that fear of punishment is the foundation for good behavior.  We see this assumption in our parenting, in our judicial system, and even in our international policies.  So, if you are no longer afraid of punishment, why bother being good?  If the threat is removed, will anyone behave well? Put in simpler terms – if you aren’t afraid of sitting in time out, will you do what your parents expect? Or if you aren’t afraid of economic sanctions that will hurt your citizens, will you put down your weapons of warfare?

Paul tackles those questions in today’s passage. If salvation is based on grace, and our salvation is already accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, does that mean we can just do whatever we want? In verse two Paul uses a wonderful Greek expression that we translate “By no means!” Absolutely not! No way!  Not at all!

We believe that in Jesus Christ we have been given new life.  Our salvation, our freedom from fear and punishment, frees us to behave like Jesus Christ in the world.  Our lives are lived in response to the gift of faith, in gratitude for the good news of salvation, not in fear of God’s anger.  Apparently God doesn’t think we have to be threatened in order to do the right thing.

During this season of Lent, will we embrace that good news for ourselves and for one another?  God’s love for us is generous and gracious, and isn’t dependent on our worthiness.  Our salvation does not depend on our good works.  We live in response to that startling claim. We are alive to God in Christ Jesus!

Prayer: Dear Lord, fill my heart with gratitude for the grace you have shown to me.  Give me new life in Jesus Christ so that everything I say and do will reflect his love for the world.  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 March 23 2017

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Scripture: Romans 5:12-21

Key verses: (20-21) But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification[a] leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Reflection: Lent is still confusing. Do we give things up or take things on? A friend of mine gives up bread every year. This year he is hoping it is something he can do beyond Lent.  He believes that giving something up for forty days is the perfect mandate for changing a bad habit. If he adheres to his commitment, then by Easter, bread will never be a temptation again.

We know that Lent is not about changing who you are as much as it is about becoming who God created you to be.

Paul is challenging our need to focus on the law rather than faith.  The law is powerless to bring the kind of change that is needed.  Only the gift of love and grace can transform our hearts and our lives. At the heart of the good news is grace and love as a basis for human transformation.  Grace, not the law, is where we find our hope today and always.

Prayer: In moments of sober reflection today, fill me with grace, that I might take advantage of this season of truth-telling, repentance, and fasting. Give me courage to face the sin that consumes me and give control of it to you, Oh God of power and love. In the name of your Son who walks this journey to the cross. 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].