Wednesday May 31 2017

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Scripture: Ezekiel 11:14-25

Key verse: (17) Therefore say: Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.

Reflection: I am easily homesick. As a child, I hated “sleep-away camp” until I was a teenager. Even as an adult, a day or two away is ok but then I’m ready to come home. I want to return to sleep in my own bed, to cook in my kitchen, and to relax in my familiar surroundings.  I have pushed myself to tolerate longer times away because I want to have new experiences around the world.  But I always long to return home!

The overarching story of Scripture has an ebb and flow of God scattering and gathering the people. God’s people were gathered in Babel and then scattered when they began to speak in different languages. Later they were gathered as a kingdom and then scattered when they were unfaithful, conquered by enemies, and dispersed in exile. The prophet Ezekiel wrote to the exiled people, offering hope that they would be gathered together and restored to their homeland of Israel.  Likely the people felt homesick, displaced and out of sorts in a foreign land. They longed to return home with all of the comfort and familiarity that implied.

Today’s gospel reading is Luke 10:17-24. Jesus had sent out (scattered!) seventy disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God in every town and place.  When they returned (gathered!), he celebrated with them in the joys of their ministry. The ebb and flow of scattering and gathering continues to this day as we go out to share good news and return to our community to rejoice, reflect, and recharge.

Wherever we go, whatever we face, God offers us the reassurance that we will be gathered into God’s presence. In the depths of loneliness, we are not alone because God is there. In the strangeness of a foreign place, we are not adrift because God is with us. In the midst of chaos or struggle, we are not abandoned because God is on the journey with us.  Whenever we have felt “scattered,” literally or figuratively, God gathers us in and offers us care. Whenever we have gone out in ministry, God rejoices with us as we celebrate good news.

Prayer:  You send us out into the world, O Lord.  Sometimes we go willingly and other times we go reluctantly, but we know you are always with us. Give us a deep assurance of your presence on the journey.  Through Christ we 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].

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Tuesday May 30 2017

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Scripture / Key verses:  various

Reflection: Today I am departing from our usual devotion form for the sake of personal privilege.

I am retiring soon from active service in ministry after 45 years in the Presbyterian Church and 18 years in this congregation.  It has been both a challenge and a pleasure (mostly ;-)) to write these daily devotions. This discipline has led me to deeper appreciation of parts of the Bible I tend to neglect and has reminded me of the remarkable thread that runs through all of our holy Scriptures.

So, today I leave you with a number of passages that for me are the core of the biblical message. If you are ever confused about what the Bible is saying to us, these passages are the core that holds it all together.

Exodus 34:6

… the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

Psalms 100:5

5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Isaiah 43:1-4

1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…

4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you …

John 14:27

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Romans 8:31-39

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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: In every chapter of life, O God, help us to put our trust in your steadfast love. In every challenge, help us know you are with us and we need not be afraid. In every moment of every day, grant us the peace that comes from knowing nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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].

Monday May 29 2017

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Scripture: Luke 9:51-62

Key verses: (57-62) 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Reflection: Jesus has a way of interrupting our plans. They aren’t always bad plans. Like those he encountered on the road to Jerusalem, and called to follow him, we have reasonable expectations for the way things should go. When Jesus invites someone on the road to follow him, and they first want to bury their father, most of us will think, “Of course. That should come first.” Likewise, we understand the one who wants to say good-bye to his family before following Jesus. But Jesus’ responses are clear that for his followers the kingdom of God must take priority over everything else, even the important things that we value.  When we follow Jesus, what matters most shifts away purely from ourselves, to matters of the kingdom.

In reflecting on this story, commentator David Lose asks this: “Does Jesus make a noticeable difference in our lives? Does the grace, mercy, and love of God made incarnate in Jesus trump our plans and shape our lives, or do we shape our faith to fit the lives we’ve already planned?” These are hard questions. We like making plans and captaining our own ships. We like controlling our destinies. We like to think we can serve Jesus best this way. But the one we follow and serve is the one who went to Jerusalem in order to lay down his life. He gave up all control in order to manifest the grace and power of God. And when it comes right down to it, that is what we also assent to when we follow him.

Lose also says this: “So what if the deepest calling of a Christian disciples isn’t to be in control – ourselves or vicariously through God – but rather to give up the illusion, to take some risks, and to throw ourselves into this turbulent life and world God loves so much trusting that God will join us in the adventure, hold onto us through all the ups and downs, and brings us in time to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, that’s faith. And when we, like Jesus’ first disciples, fall short yet again, then all we can do is give thanks that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem not just with us but also for us, taking on our chaotic lot and joining us in our turbulent lives that we may know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.”

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful that you have called me to follow you. Forgive me when I think my plans must be better than yours. Forgive me for always wanting to maintain control of my life. Help me trust that you are not just with me, but also for me. Give me eyes for the way to your kingdom. Or at least enough sense to stay close to you on the way. 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].

Friday May 26 2017

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Scripture: Ezekiel 1:28-3:3

Key verse: (2:6) . . . O, Mortal, do not be afraid of them and do not be afraid of their words . . .”

Reflection: Today’s passage describes the fantastic vision of God that Ezekiel experienced as he stood among the exiles along the river Chebar.  The heavens opened up with a stormy wind and flashes of fire.  He then describes what he saw — living creatures beyond description.  Over the centuries, many artists have tried to recreate Ezekiel’s vision based on these verses.  It is other-worldly and strange.  At the center of it all, is the glory of the LORD.  When Ezekiel saw this splendor, he fell on his face and heard the voice of someone speaking.   It is at this point in the story that Ezekiel received his call from God to go to the house of Israel with a message of lamentation, mourning and woe.  He had already experienced what it meant to be an exile, losing home and country.  It would be 11 more years before Jerusalem fell.  Ezekiel was sent by God to warn them that destruction was coming. God wasn’t ready to give up on Jerusalem even though the people had given up on God.  We can only imagine what a difficult task lay ahead for Ezekiel.  And yet, when he was filled with God’s spirit and ate the scroll containing the words of lamentation and woe, it tasted as sweet as honey — he was ready.

God gave Ezekiel what he needed to speak words that no one wanted to hear.  How often do we hear words of warning and yet, refuse to listen?  We may lash out in anger at the messenger. Is there someone in your life right now warning you that you are headed in the wrong direction?  Or have you been called to speak out against something that is unjust?   Are you fighting for the rights of others and challenging powerful systems that keep men, women and children from reaching their full potential?  Whatever the situation, remember that there are some words that are hard to hear. When we speak the truth in love, others may lash out in fear.  It was true in Ezekiel’s day and it is true in ours.

Prayer:  Holy God, give us the courage to follow your call and speak your word.  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].

 

Thursday May 25 2017

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Scripture: Matt. 28:16–20

Key verse: (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: It’s the first time for the disciples to be together, with Jesus, since scattering and abandoning Jesus at the cross. And what does Jesus take the opportunity to tell his friends?   Go!  It’s the great commission, though Jesus never calls it that.  Jesus calls it the I-have-authority-so-go-everywhere-baptize-teach-preach-remember-I-am-with-you-always-and-for-ever sermon.

It is an incredible if demanding commission.  It has the risk of being an impossible ask to a group of disciples who by all accounts failed miserably as disciples only a few short days before.  Go? All nations? Teaching everything?  Them?

The good news is that the commission is not just a sending out but a drawing in too. Jesus is not saying go away from me, but go with me, go to me, go for me.  With that kind of travel companion where couldn’t you go?

Prayer: For all that lies behind us Lord, we might need peace; for all that lies before us we probably need courage; for all that is upon us we  should have wisdom and grace.  What we really ask for Lord is you.  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 May 24 2017

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Scripture: Luke 12:22-31

Key verse: (31) “Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and all these things will be given you as well.”

Reflection: “Do not worry about your life.”  That’s what Jesus tells the disciples in our reading for the day.  Really?  Don’t worry.  That’s it?  Easier said than done.  It seems anxiety is at the heart of the human condition.  Simply saying, “Don’t worry, be happy,” won’t work.  In his book, Good and Evil: Interpreting a Human Condition, theologian Edward Farley suggests our anxiety grows from “the intrinsic vulnerability and tragic character of the human condition.”  At every level of human existence—the personal, the interpersonal, and the social — we are vulnerable, and that makes us anxious.

On an individual level, we have a passion for self-preservation, yet we are finite beings who will all eventually die.  We are vulnerable to physical injury, disease, pain, and death.  This inherent conflict between our passion for life and the reality of death leads us to be anxious.  Interpersonally we desire a relationship with others. To quote Genesis, “it is not good for a person to be alone.”  But human relationships require us to be vulnerable.  When we open our heart to another, we run the risk of being rejected.  At some point, we will all be hurt. This tension born of the vulnerability inherent in relationship makes us anxious.  The vulnerabilities of our personal lives and relationships expand to the social realm.  We are built for community, yet there is a tragic reality that we cannot all get along. We herd together around categories of race, ethnicity, economic status, politics, religion, or nation, just to name a few.  These groups inevitably clash in seeking to meet their own needs, making us chronically anxious.

To ease our anxieties we seek some form of security in the material world.  We believe that if we only had more money, or more power, or a younger physique, or a more attractive face, then we would be secure.  But our anxieties are only enhanced.  The Bible has a word for that: idolatry.  Nothing in the material world can ease this anxiety, only that which is beyond the material can temper our worry.  Paul Tillich, Farley’s teacher, called this antidote, “being founded in the sacred,” in “the ground of being.”  Jesus put it this way: “Strive for God’s kingdom.”  In the midst of life’s anxiety, seek God’s abiding presence.  That’s what we do when we read a devotional.  That’s what we do when we take time for prayer and meditation.  That’s what we do when we volunteer at the Crisis Assistance Center, or the Men’s Shelter, or at Billingsville, or at the Habitat build.  That’s what we do in worship.  We seek God, and if only for those moments, our anxieties are eased.

This is the tension that is the life of faith.  Jesus knows these tensions.  If he didn’t, why would he have had to tell his disciples not to worry?  As you face the anxieties today will have to offer you, as the old praise song puts it, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”  May God’s abiding presence bring you calm in the midst of life’s storms, and that peace that passes all understanding to guard your heart and mind in Christ.

Prayer: I take a moment this day to be still … and to know that you are God … and to know you are with me. Thank you for your presence.  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 May 23 2017

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Scripture: James 1:16-27

Key verse: (17) Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Reflection: “The year 2017 marks 500 years since a stubborn monk and towering thinker, Martin Luther, published his 95 theses or complaints against the Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation, a momentous religious revolution whose consequences we still live with today.” [1] Later Luther proposed changes to the “canon,” the list of books included in the Bible.  Luther referred to the Letter of James as an “epistle of straw” and attempted to remove it from scripture because the authorship was questionable, the letter says little about Jesus Christ, and the focus of the letter is on human behavior.

Fortunately, Luther didn’t prevail and the Letter of James remains in our Bibles! Our lives are lived in response to God’s love revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  Much of the New Testament focuses on that love as we see it in Christ but James focuses on our response.

Every act of giving and every perfect gift comes from God. God loves us first and we respond by living out our faith. In Jesus Christ we see God’s generous and sacrificial love. We respond by giving generously and sacrificially for God’s work in the world.

As our church mission statement reminds us:

Claimed by the love of God in Jesus Christ,

we are called into this community of faith

living out our love for God

in worship, study, and service,

loving and supporting one another

as we join God’s transforming work

in our city and in the world.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee. Though changest not; thy compassions they fail not. As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.” May I live with your generosity, your faithfulness, and your compassion today.  Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[1] PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly February 3, 2017

[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].