Friday June 30 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 139

Key verses: (21-22) 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

Reflection: It’s kind of like being in the middle of the most beautiful wedding reception you have ever attended until the uncle that needed a buffer between himself and the bar stands up and blesses the bride and groom in a slurry, blurry, profanity laced way that manages to offend and upset everyone present and for generations to come.  Does this sound familiar?  I don’t know about the weddings you attend, but it feels a lot like the psalm today. To hate with a perfect hatred? Impressive. Frightening too, but an insult for the ages nonetheless.

Psalm 139 is absolutely gorgeous, unparalleled in its tenderness and intimacy — to be known is the central, core theme of this scripture.  But why upset the mood with such vitriol like the passage above?  Arguments made to suggest that these difficult passages are an insertion, part of another now lost psalm, are understandable but textually bankrupt.  The passages don’t sound like the rest of the psalm but they belong there according to the author.

The word hate in Hebrew doesn’t convey the passionate emotion we associate with the word. For our spiritual ancestors, the word can have several meanings and often meant to sound more like a position, an action.  To hate can mean to love less, neglect, not prefer.  It’s still not a positive word per se, but it is not a furious, ugly word either.

To hate is to create distance and the psalmist (who is the one hating here, not God) wants to be distant from those who do not love God, who do not love or live in ways that are just, merciful, or kind (remember what the Lord requires in Micah 6).  By hating, the psalmist is declaring loyalty, stating his position and orientation in life.  He is choosing to be with God, to turn toward God.

To love, the opposite of hate, is to have no distance; love calls you to stand close and with and face to face.  To ask yourself what and who you love is also to ask yourself what are you turning from, what do you need to let go of, to walk away from in order to embrace the way, the life, the mercy, the knowledge, the intimacy, the love, the God that calls you to?

Prayer: 

O loving God,

to turn away from you is to fall,

to turn toward you is to rise,

and to stand before you is to abide forever.

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.           Augustine of Hippo

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].

Thursday June 29 2017

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Scripture: 1 Samuel 8:1-22

Key verse: (5) “Appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

Reflection: How often in our lives do we look at others and think, “I want to be like them.”  It can be true for us as individuals.  It can be true for churches.  It can be true at every level of our existence.  According to 1 Samuel 8, it was true for the Israelites.  God delivered them from Egypt, provided for them in the wilderness, guided them to the Promised Land, and shaped them into a holy people through the covenant.  Now that the tribes have established a tribal confederacy governed by judges the Lord called to lead, they look at other nations ruled by kings and say, “We want to be like them.”

The problem is that’s not who God called them to be.  God called them to be a holy people, a people distinct from other nations.  They were not to set a king over themselves, because God was their king.  But they did not want to answer that call.  They wanted to be like other nations.  So God said to Samuel, “Give them what they want, and tell them what they’ll get.”  Samuel proceeds to tell them the ways of kings.  They take and take and take.  Seven times Samuel uses the Hebrew verb for “take.”  Seven is the number for completeness.  Samuel implies the king will take everything from you.  In the end, that’s what the kings do.  The royal experiment ends in disaster, with Israel taken into exile in Babylon.  It all starts here in 1 Samuel 8 when the Israelites refused to answer God’s call for them, but chose to be like other nations.

What is God’s call to you?  How have you been uniquely gifted?  What wildernesses has God brought you through?  Who has God shaped you to be?  By answering these questions we get clarity about our unique calling.  This can be a powerful antidote to wanting to be like others.  Be who God called you to be.  That’s what we’re all called to do.

Prayer: “You created us in your image, O God.  You have given us gifts and skills and talents and life experiences that shape who we are.  Helps us discern who you call us to be.  Guard the eyes of our hearts when we are tempted to look at others and long to be like them.  Keep us focused on who you call us to be, then give us the courage to respond.  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].

Wednesday June 28 2017

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Scripture: Luke 22:14-23

Key verse: (19) Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Reflection: Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples in Jerusalem. At that gathering, he offered the disciples the bread and the cup (in this gospel, there were two cups – one before the bread and one after) to be received and to be shared. He interpreted the bread to be his body and the cup to be his blood, both offered out of selfless love.

This meal became a sacrament for the church. St. Augustine defined sacraments as “visible signs of invisible grace.” Jesus took ordinary items, the cup and the bread, and made them holy by giving the disciples another way to understand those ordinary things. Cup and bread are no longer merely cup and bread, but they point to something mysterious and wonderful. Cup and bread will be reminders of Jesus’ death. Cup and bread will be signs of Christ’s presence with us. The simple cup and bread create community with all those who see the love of God in these ordinary items.

This Sunday at Myers Park Presbyterian Church we will celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. All of us are welcome at the table of the Lord – those who believe and those who long to believe and those who question belief. Sometimes I am asked why we welcome children to the table (many of us grew up in traditions that didn’t allow children to receive the sacrament until a certain age or a particular ritual). Usually the person asking the question says, “They don’t understand so we should wait until they understand what they are doing.” I respond: “Wow, you understand? For 2000 years the greatest theologians have said it’s a mystery. If you understand it, you should write a book.” God’s love is a mystery sometimes, turning ordinary things into holy reminders.  I’m just grateful to be invited to the table.

Prayer: Gracious and giving God, as by the miracle of creation this bread and wine are changed into us, we pray that by the transforming power of your Holy Spirit, we might be changed into you, to be the Body of Christ in and for the world, and to join your ministry of justice, mercy and love.  Your selfless love is incomprehensible. There is room at your table for everyone. Thank you. Amen.

(Our prayer today is an adaptation of the prayer we use in worship after communion, adapted from a prayer of the Iona community.)

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].

Tuesday June 27 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 30

Key verses: (11-12)

11  You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12  so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Reflection: Vacation Bible School is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Months of preparation, an army of disciples and leaders, the greatest youth in the world, and an incredibly accommodating church staff combine to share the love of God with over 200 children and families. This year we concentrated on Stories Jesus Told, and explored some of the parables of Jesus.

We learned that the love of God is spread widely like the Sower who scattered seed. When the seeds fell on good soil, they grew and grew into an abundant harvest. God’s love can grow in us and in the world when we listen and learn and love.

We learned that Jesus is like a good shepherd who searches for that one lost sheep, then carries it home and rejoices. He is like the woman who searches for her one lost coin until she finds it, then rejoices and celebrates. God never gives up on us, and rejoices when we are all together.

We learned that our neighbors are, well . . . everybody; and that sometimes God’s love and mercy comes from people and places we don’t expect. We marveled at the love of the Good Samaritan, and hope to live like him.

We learned that the Kingdom of God is like when a man gave a great banquet and made room at the table for people who don’t often get invited. Just like God’s table is open, so too is God’s kingdom.

The best part of every day for me is always our opening assembly, when the children come in and sing and dance. I am reminded that regardless of what else is happening, there is nothing more important than praising God. God indeed turns our mourning into dancing, and brings so much joy that we can’t be silent. I think everyone who was here for VBS still has the song stuck in our head: “All around the world, something’s going on, about Jesus’ love. It’s amazing!” Yes it is!

Prayer: God, we give you thanks for joy and for song. For stories Jesus told, and for his love which is amazing. Help us learn and grow, rejoice, and welcome others. May we be part of spreading your love and mercy wherever we are, and around the world. In the name of Jesus we 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].

Monday June 26 2017

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Scripture: Acts 5:12-26

Key verse: (12) “Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles.”

Reflection: In the beginning of this passage of scripture, the Apostles are healing the sick.  This ministry of healing was so profound that people were even healed when Peter’s shadow fell across them!  It is hard for us to imagine this kind of miracle — a miracle in which the sick in body and mind are all cured.  Not just some of them, but all of them.  This was and is quite remarkable.  The church continues to have a ministry to the sick, but we all know that despite our prayers and our faith, not everyone is cured.   Early in my faith journey I struggled with this reality.  I wanted to know why people were cured by the Apostle’s in the early church, but this kind of healing didn’t seem to be available any more.  Why does a good God allow suffering to exist?  Why isn’t everyone cured?  Tough questions. It’s been difficult to find answers.  I can’t adequately offer one today.   However, in my work over the years, I have observed something quite remarkable.  I have seen people healed without being cured.  Over and over again, I have seen a faithful, loving God; heal the heart and mind of those sick in body.  I have seen the peace Christ promised in the Gospel of John, a peace that the world can’t give, provide solace and healing in person after person of faith.  Of course, when we are sick we want to be cured.  And, most of the time, through the miracle of modern medicine, we are.  We now have cures for many diseases  that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago.  But, there are still diseases whose progression we can’t stop.  In the face of this realization, we are challenged to live fully into our faith — to surrender our lives to God in Jesus Christ who we believe holds our lives in his hands.  It is inspiring to read about the faith of those who first followed the Apostle’s teachings.  They experienced the presence of Jesus through these early prophets and evangelists and it was life-changing.  We can only hope that God will use us to proclaim the love, acceptance and forgiveness of Jesus Christ that we have experienced in such a way that all people might experience his healing touch.

Prayer: Loving God, there is so much we don’t understand.  Life is difficult and there are things that we don’t understand. When we see suffering around us that doesn’t make sense, we feel helpless.  In our helplessness, turn our hearts toward you that we might surrender our lives to you in order that we might offer your healing touch to all those in need. 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].

Friday June 23 2017

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Scripture: Acts 2:1-21

Key verse: (12) All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’

Reflection: Sometimes I’ll be asked to share why I entered the ministry. Was my Dad a minister?  When did I know?  How was I sure?   It’s a good question but after 17 years of ordained ministry my response seems to be increasingly vague and less clear.  Not that my calling feels that way, but how I describe it does.  Any soundbite or elevator speech I may have once used sounds incomplete and pallid.  How do you explain the ways of the spirit?  How do I say:  well my call has to do with an author by the name of Frederick Buechner, a bully in ninth grade, the woman from the film in Psych 101, some Roman Catholic nuns, a Sunday school teacher with a very bad haircut, Audrey and sharing of scripture, a walk down the Danforth in Toronto, my best friend, my backyard on a January night, and a reoccurring dream . . .

It sounds kind of funny doesn’t it? If not downright questionable!

But that’s what happens when you talk about the Spirit. Acts talks about the Spirit being like dancing fire and blowing wind and voices loud and joyful — so much so that people thought they were on an early morning bender.

It’s hard sometimes to easily describe what God is doing with you, how God has spoken to you.  But it’s not hard to see it.  It’s not hard to live it.  It’s not hard to share it. People might think you are crazy or drunk or dumb or immature.  They may think that anyway!

If God is working in you (and yes God is btw), but it’s hard to discern, hard to put your finger on it, hard to see where it is taking you and what it all means . . . Just go with it. Loudly and boldly, joyfully and messily. Go with it.  It won’t just change your life. It will save it.

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit and lead me this day. 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].

Thursday June 22 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 97

Key verse: (1) “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice.”

Reflection:  “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice.”  So begins Psalm 97.  It’s filled with joyous descriptions of all the ways the world glorifies God, and of all the ways God blesses the faithful for their witness; preserving the lives of the saints, delivering us from the hand of the wicked, etc.  “Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart!”  Isn’t that wonderful?  Yet, is that the way the world works?

It seems our world is too often defined by war, poverty, injustice and illness.  It can leave us wondering, “Does the Lord really reign?  It sure doesn’t feel like it some days.”  While the Psalmist asserts, “All worshipers of idols are put to shame,” it sure does seem like all our contemporary idols are thriving these days.  Just a few weeks ago, 29 Egyptian Christians on their way to a monastery south of Cairo were murdered by ISIS terrorists.  In response to this horror, Pope Francis pointed out, “Today there are more Christian martyrs than in ancient times.”  I was shocked to hear that.  How does that relate to Psalm 97’s assertion that the Lord, “guards the lives of his faithful?”   Is the Psalmist blind to these realities?

In his book, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, Walter Brueggemann suggests there are three types of Psalms: psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of reorientation.  Psalms of orientation often sound like Psalm 97.  God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.  Psalms of disorientation offer challenges to that positivism.  They point out the suffering of the faithful and ask, “Where are you, O Lord?”  One-third of the Psalms are laments that seek God’s presence in the midst of turmoil and suffering.  These are psalms of disorientation.  Then there are psalms of reorientation — that point to a new reality on the other side of suffering.  Psalm 23 is perhaps the best example of this.  It moves from the orientation of God as shepherd and everything being right with the world, to the disorientation of the valley of the shadow of death, where the speaker shifts to speaking to God instead of about God, then to reorientation around the God who provides a feast, even in the presence of enemies that threaten us.

Understood in this light, Psalm 97 could be proposing a new world, a world that works the way it is supposed to work.  Perhaps in the midst of exile, where it did not feel like God was in charge in any way, singing this psalm of faith was part of singing a new reality into being.  From the standpoint of faith, in the midst of a world that feels far removed from the justice of Psalm 97, we live toward the world it describes, rejoicing the Lord who promises to bring it, giving thanks to God’s holy name.

Prayer: “Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be thou our guard while life shall last, and our eternal home.”  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].