Wednesday May 17 2017

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Scripture: Luke 8:16–25

Key verse: (25a) [Jesus] said to them, “Where is your faith?”

Reflection: My wife’s great-aunt was engaged to a ship’s captain who perished at sea, Lake Superior, to be exact, and she never married.  Sounds romantic, but I think for the 99-year-old woman I knew, it was just tragic.  The ocean, the sea, the lake, the local pool — places we will flock to in the warm months ahead — bring along with great refreshment the potential for great danger too.  But gloat not mountain people, for where on this earth are we free from trouble’s reach?

So, on a lake, in the midst of a storm, afraid of losing their life, the disciples in our passage today lose their cool, their faith, to be exact.  Trouble can happen so quickly.  Though he soothes the wind and therefore the waves, Jesus is not so soothing to his companions.  He asks “Where is your faith?”  I usually answer for them in the story thinking “I lost it with the rest of my stomach over the side of the boat an hour ago, thank-you very much.”

But here is what they didn’t lose: Jesus.

I know, I know, such an obvious answer. Let’s just tie this devotion up with a ribbon and call it done.  But, when storms swell, trouble ensues, and everything falls apart again, even the most obvious, most predictable, answer to every children’s story is hard to find, and with no Jesus, we have no faith either.

“I am right here,” Jesus says.  And he will still a storm, feed a crowd, heal the sick, pray, preach, go to hell, and even raise the dead just so we get the point. Where on this earth are we out of God’s reach?

Prayer:  “O, God, be kind to me.  Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

Breton Fisherman’s Prayer.

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].

Tuesday May 16 2017

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sower

Scripture: Luke 8:1-15

Key verse: (15) “But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”

Reflection: The parable of the sower is incredibly frustrating for me.  The sower seems so foolish — casting valuable seed in such a haphazard way, scattering it on the path and in the rocks and amidst the thorns and in shallow soil.  By dumb luck, some lands in good soil and brings a harvest.  Why waste so much seed?  Why throw seed on the path in the first place?  Who does that?  Why not do some weeding before you plant, pull out those thorns and thistles and till the soil? Why not break up that rocky ground and add some fertilizer and top soil and prepare the dirt before you start casting valuable seeds to the wind? What a waste! What kind of farmer would ever be so wasteful?

No wonder the disciples had trouble understanding this parable!  They were rural folk who knew a little something about farming.  They may have been fishermen, but even they knew you don’t waste seed like that.  In a world where too many people are starving, how can the sower be so careless with such valuable resources?  In a world of scarce supply and unlimited demand, where the gap between limited resources and insatiable need causes acute pain, the parable of the sower makes no sense.  In this world, seeds must be sown very carefully.  In this world, scarce resources must be wisely employed, not cast to the winds.  That’s the way things work in this world.

But Jesus is not talking about this world, is he?  He is not teaching the crowds gathered beside the sea about the harsh realities of market-driven economies.  He is not talking about the persistent gap between limited supply and insatiable demand.  He is not talking about the pain caused by the ways of this world.  He is talking about the Kingdom of God.  He is talking about God’s world: a place not defined by limited supply and unending demand; a place where the supply of seeds is never-ending so the Sower need not worry because there is plenty of seed to go around.  And the seed that lands in good soil, well, it yields 30 and 60 and 100-fold.  It floods the wheat market, so wheat seed becomes dirt cheap.

It starts with a seed.  That seed is the Word of God, the Gospel of God’s love for all people made known in Jesus, embodied in his life and witness.  There is not scarcity when it comes to this love. God need not conduct a soil test before sowing the seed to consider whether the soil is worthy of being sown, worthy of receiving this love—which is a good thing!  God knows I’ve got some rocky patches in the fields of my soul. Maybe you do too.  There are some thorns and some briars and a few places that are a bit shallow—Lord, have mercy.  But if the seed of God’s love finds that place within us that is good dirt, then by the power of the Holy Spirit, something good can spring forth, yielding a harvest beyond anything we could ever imagine.  According to Jesus, that’s the way the kingdom of God works.

And so with the Sower, we keep sowing seeds: the seed of God’s Word, the seed of God’s love, the seed of God’s hope.  We keep sowing seeds refusing to give into the despair when they are snatched away or choked by the thorns or whither under the scorching sun because they lack depth.  We keep sowing seeds of faith and hope and love trusting in God’s time a harvest of righteousness will spring forth.  We keep sowing seeds even as we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Prayer: “Break up the soil of our souls, O God.  Pull the weeds of worry that choke out your Word.  Dig deep within our hearts that the seed of your Word might take root and yield abundant fruit in our lives for your kingdom.  We wait with patient endurance.  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 May 15 2017

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Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-15

Key verses: (14-15) Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Reflection: Jeremiah was a prophet in a time of turmoil and division (sound familiar?). He was a social critic who called the people, and especially their leaders, to be faithful in the midst of crisis. Today’s passage comes from a section of the book when the city of Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians. When we are frightened, when we feel threatened, when we are besieged, when we know that our enemies are close, we are easily tempted to give up hope, to turn toward idolatry, and to seek help from the wrong rescuers. We need prophets to be our social critics calling us back to faithfulness.

In that context, the Lord told Jeremiah to buy a field. He bought the field and put the deed away for safekeeping. This was an act of faith, a symbol of his confidence in God. Jeremiah had hope and lived out his hope while everyone around him was hopeless. He trusted that destruction would not be permanent, enemies would not have the last word, and death would not win. One day God’s people would buy houses and fields and vineyards again in the land. At the time, Jeremiah looked like a fool. Who buys property when an enemy is surrounding the city?

In our own time, we might be called to look foolish as we live out our hope. If we refuse to succumb to despair or hopelessness, if we avoid the demeaning and vitriolic rhetoric, if we offer a positive vision of the future instead of a frightening dystopia, we can be prophets today. How will you live out your hope? How can you invest your time, your money, and your energy in a way that shows you are trusting in God and you believe in God’s gracious future?

Prayer: Sometimes I am discouraged, O God. I lose heart and I want to give up trying to make a difference. Give me courage to live out my hope in foolish ways today.  Through Christ 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 May 12 2017

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Scripture: Luke 7:1-17

Key verses: (13-15) When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Reflection: When I read stories like this I tend to focus on the miraculous actions of Jesus. That’s the way Jesus was portrayed as I grew up in the church – a miracle worker. As I have spent more time with the Scriptures I have come to see another dimension to how the gospels tell the stories of Jesus.

In this story, Jesus and his disciples were passing through a town called Nain. They saw a funeral procession leaving the town for the burial. It was a man who had died, the only son of a widow from the town. Anyone in the first century, when they heard that a widow’s only son had died, would have immediately realized that the woman was in deep distress. Any woman who lost her husband would have been completely dependent on her male children. Losing her only son would mean spending the rest of her life begging for food and shelter, at the bottom of the social hierarchy, dependent on the generosity of others.

It is miraculous that Jesus could, with a spoken word, bring the man back from death. Just as miraculous is the fact that Jesus stopped on his travels, noticed this woman engaged in burying the dead, sensed her distress, appreciated her predicament, and had compassion on her — a poor, destitute widow grieving not only for the loss of her son, but also for the loss of her life as she had known it. Jesus stopped what he was doing, not to prove he could do amazing things, but to live out God’s compassion for the least, the last, and the lost. The compassion of Jesus is more profound that his ability to raise the dead. It demonstrated what was important to God. It modeled how disciples should live, how they should travel, what is worth stopping for, and who is valued in God’s family.

In our busy lives, with busy schedules and places to be and things to do, what stops us in our tracks? Do we notice the people God loves? Do we take the time to offer what we can? Do those who observe our actions ever say, “God has looked favorably on his people!”

Prayer:  Compassionate God, break through our focused attention so that we might see the needs of the world and share the love you have first shown us. In the powerful name of Jesus, 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 May 11 2017

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Scripture: Luke 6:39-49

Key verses: (47-49) 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

Reflection: We are knee-deep in planning Vacation Bible School for this year. Writing our own curriculum to cover four of the best-loved parables has been an exercise in making choices. First of all, how do you choose which parables? There are so many stories Jesus told! We settled on these four: The Parable of the Sower, the Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Parable of the Great Banquet. These are four rich stories that will help our children explore what it means to listen to God’s word, to rejoice in the love of God, to love one another, and to welcome everyone.

While we did not choose to tell the story of the wise and foolish builders, I’ve been thinking about it. These lessons we teach our children, whether in Vacation Bible School, in Sunday School, or in ongoing worship attendance, are the ways we help build a strong foundation for them. Layer upon layer of exposure to the stories of the people of God, and the worship, service, and community of the people of God, are what strengthen the foundation into solid rock. It takes time, and repetition, and commitment, and many people invested in the task. The result is a sure bedrock of faith formation that can weather whatever trouble or storms the world sends.

As we head into a busy time of travel and summer schedules, renew your commitment to strengthen your faith foundation this summer. Join us for worship. Keep reading Bible stories at home, even when Sunday School goes on hiatus. Then we can sing in faith together: “On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand!”

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all those who have helped build a sure foundation of faith for me. May I continue to strengthen it all my life long. May I be one who encourages a strong foundation in others. 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 May 10 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 118

Key verse: (1) “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”

Reflection: This is a song of victory most likely sung after winning a battle. The first verse is a familiar one.  It is found in many hymns and songs of praise.  It reminds us of who God is and how God loves.  There are so many times in life that we need to know God will not leave us.  There are battles in life that don’t involve armies or war.  These battles are experienced within and without.  Worry and anxiety or fear and uncertainty can rob us of joy.  The Psalmist writes:  “out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me . . .”   What wonderful words to remember when the tough times come.  And they will.  So I invite you today to meditate on the words below then ask yourself :  Where do I put my confidence?

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.

With the LORD on my side I do not fear.

What can mortals do to me?

The LORD in on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in mortals.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks that nothing can separate us from your love.  Come to our assistance today and take away our fear that we might live confident lives of faith.  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 May 9 2017

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Scripture: Colossians 1:15-23

Key verse: (17) He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Reflection: The first name I learned in North Carolina was Cherie Berry.  Those first few days at Montreat when everything about this state that one day would be home (now there was a thought that did not occur to me during Alpha youth week 2008) was new and unfamiliar, but every elevator ride greeted me with a name that was as charming as the smile was friendly.  Yes, Ms. Berry was there every single time, assuring me via her stamp of approval as Commissioner of Labor, that my sky ride was indeed safe and meeting every standard.  There she was in 2014 too as I entered the Myers Park elevator with a box of books and while there were no witnesses, I swear I heard her say “bless your heart, welcome home Mr. Derek.”  You know her too, for I guarantee you have not taken an elevator ride in all of NC without her picture riding along.

Let’s go to Colossae for a moment, the geographical context for today’s passage.  It was a city saturated with the understanding that the Emperor’s divine authority (Pax Romana) was holding everything together.  The entire culture was dominated by an egomaniacal emperor in a place where cruelty could be mistaken for justice and patronage more valued than partnership. The Emperor’s visage was imprinted on every coin, Rome’s presence on every corner.

Yet amidst this noise and mayhem the author of Colossians defiantly proclaims: Christ holds all things together!  It is Christ, firstborn of all creation, in whom life is created, found, redeemed and abundant.  It is Christ who is with, for, above, below, beyond, within you.  In every nook, every cranny, every heart, every home, every problem, every question, every hurt; in every dead-end, wrong turn and every corner of all creation, you will find, as predictably as a picture of Cherie Berry in a Carolina elevator, the very presence of Jesus Christ.  And in Christ’s presence, the world is new, the way is found and the kingdom present and ready. In him all things, including and especially yourself, are held together.

Prayer: Lord, in Jesus Christ you hold together this world.  When things feel like they are falling apart, help me remember that nothing with you is lost. 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].

Monday May 8 2017

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Scripture: Colossians 1:1-14

Key verse: (7) “This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant.”

Reflection: According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, “Colossae was a town of Phrygia in Asia Minor, not far from Ephesus.  The church in Colossae had been founded, not by Paul, but probably by Epaphras.”  This is based on the reference made to Epaphras in v. 7 of today’s reading.  He is mentioned again at the end of the epistle, and he is also included in Philemon.  Here is an ancient iconic image of Epaphras:

epaphras

The name is said to mean, “charming or lovely.”  Not many in European culture are named after this founding saint of Colossae.  He doesn’t make any litanies of saints, and yet it is clear that without him there may not have been a church in Colossae.  Pail describes him as, “our beloved faithful servant,” and, “a faithful minister of Christ.”  Not a bad way to be remembered in sacred scripture!

Who was your Epaphras?  From whom did you “hear of this hope in the word of truth?”  Who brought you to faith?  My guess is we could all name a number of Epaphrases in our lives.  As we move toward Mother’s Day this Sunday, I’m thankful my Mom saw that I was baptized at Rockville United Methodist Church, and that she cared enough to take me to church from time to time, though I’m not sure much of her efforts stuck with me then.  My wife, Jennifer, is a huge reason my faith grew.  After college I got involved in a Bible study because church was important to her, and I knew I had a lot to learn.  K.C. Ptomey was the pastor who led that Bible study.  He changed my life, encouraging me to consider a call to ministry.  I was blessed by many good teachers, including Walter Brueggemann and Shirley Guthrie.  I’m so thankful for the hope they shared with me “in the word of truth.”

Who was your Epaphras?  One thing is certain, none of us come to faith on our own.  God provides people along the way to point us in the right direction.  This day, take a moment to consider who those people have been for you.  Who knows, perhaps you are that person for someone else!

Prayer: Thank you, O God, for Epaphras in my life; for those who have guided me on the journey of faith, who opened to me your word of truth, who showed me what the life of faith is all about.  Fill me with your Holy Spirit this day, that I might be a witness to the hope we can only find in the word of truth we know in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray.  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 May 5 2017

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Scripture: Luke 5:12-26

Key verse: (23) Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Stand up and walk”?

Reflection: What a bold risky story! A group of men carry their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus.  When they arrive, the house is too crowded and they can’t get in. So they turn around and go back home.  Sorry, maybe next time!

Nope! They climb onto the roof, made a hole in the tiles, and lowered their friend right into the middle of the room in front of Jesus. They were bold and risky. I wonder what the owner of the home thought about that. Then Jesus asked the man whether or not he believed and when the man answered affirmatively, Jesus healed him.

Nope! Jesus looked at the friends and commented on their faith. Their “above and beyond” effort was a sign of their love for their friend and of their faith in Jesus. Jesus looked at the man and proclaimed “Stand up and walk!”

Nope! Jesus said “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Jesus was bold and risky. He dealt with spiritual healing by offering grace, freedom from guilt and burden. The crowd rejoiced and celebrated this good news.

Nope! The gathered crowd began to question and accused Jesus of blasphemy.  He was forgiving sins which was something that only God alone could do. Jesus was bold and risky. He must be equating himself with God! Jesus apologized for speaking out of turn and then shook hands with the man.

Nope! Jesus asked them, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’, or “Stand up and walk”? There is no good answer.  Jesus can say both. Jesus was bold and risky to offer grace and to bring physical healing.

How are we called to be bold and risky today? Are we called to risky persistence in our love for our friends? Are we called to offer bold grace to someone who doesn’t even ask for it?  Are we called to follow Jesus even when it might be bold and risky?

Prayer: Thank you, O Lord, for those who love me with persistence. Empower me to love others with risky persistence. Thank you, O Lord, for offering grace to me with bold audacity. Empower me to offer bold grace to those who need to be released from guilt.  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 May 4 2017

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Scripture: Luke 5:1-11

Key verses: (9-10) For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Reflection: I have never been much of a fisherman. I apparently have a low capacity for the patience required to be a good fisherman. This becomes abundantly clear to me when nothing is happening. If there is no action, the fish are not biting, and nothing is caught – B O R I N G! Move on to something else! I suppose, if my livelihood depended on my fishing skills I might feel differently. If I were dependent on those skills to put food on my family’s table, I probably would try to develop those skills. But since they are not, I won’t.

So, this incident of Jesus and the disciples does not create an easy connection for me. The part about Jesus telling them to go out into deeper water and put their nets on the other side has always been a challenge to the risk-averse side of me. It certainly is true that we rarely ever grow mentally, physically, and spiritually unless we get outside of our comfort zone. When the disciples did just that, they ended up with a huge catch of fish.

Then Jesus tells Simon (soon to be Peter) not to be afraid. Don’t worry Simon, Jesus says. The challenge of hauling in a huge load of fish will pale in comparison to the next fishing trip I send you on. You are going to be CATCHING PEOPLE!  (It’s not recorded in Scripture, but at this point, Simon sat down in the boat and mumbled, “O Lord, what is he getting me into now?”)

What does this mean, “catching people?”  Do I use hooks, nets, spears, what? What do I do when I catch them? Do they go bad? Jesus seems to enjoy baiting people to take him more literally than he intends. Catching people is not about actually capturing people. It’s not about techniques and equipment.  It is about inviting people into the boat so that everyone can be a part of the fishing party, following Jesus. To catch people, you don’t need a hook and line. You don’t need a net.  You don’t even need water. We just need to follow that guy who seems to know more about fishing than the pros.

Prayer: You call us, O Lord, out of our comfort zones into the deeper water. You call us to put out nets where you tell us to. You call us to gather the amazing result. You call us to follow you. Show us where to go and what to do. In the name of the greatest fisherman of all, Jesus Christ. 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].