Monday July 31 2017

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Scripture: Acts 15:36-16:5

Key verse: (16:3) Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Reflection: Was Paul inconsistent? The entire letter to the Galatians is an argument about why Gentile believers do NOT have to be circumcised in order to be disciples of Jesus. Paul wrote that letter to affirm the freedom we have in Christ that we are no longer slaves to the law. Circumcision, the mark of Jewish identity for a male, was not necessary for non-Jews who chose to follow Jesus.  Paul became angry that anyone would say otherwise. He wrote “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Then here in the book of Acts we learn that Paul took his young friend Timothy to be circumcised before they embarked on a missionary journey among Jewish people. What?!? I believe that Paul wanted Timothy to be circumcised because Paul loved Timothy and Paul loved the Jews they would meet on their journey.  Paul knew that Timothy would be more easily accepted if he was circumcised. And Paul knew that if Timothy wasn’t circumcised, the Jews would likely be concerned about Timothy’s presence in their midst and unable to hear or understand what Paul was preaching to them.

Here is the analogy that I experience: If a congregation asks me what guest preachers should be required to wear, I would staunchly defend that the preacher can wear whatever she or he chooses.  Blue jeans and a t-shirt, a colorful dress or a dark suit, a clergy robe. The clothes the preacher wears are NOT an issue.  On the other hand, if a young pastor asks me about what to wear when they preach as a guest in our congregation, I guide them to dress in a way that fits in.  Why? Love.  I know the clothes aren’t important but I also know that the preacher will face less difficulty if she fits in and I know the members of the congregation, like all humans, will be distracted if the preacher wears something odd or flamboyant.

The only thing that counts is faith working through love.  Love is relational and contextual and sometimes will even look inconsistent.  Loving two different people (two children in a family? Two co-workers? Two friends?) may mean treating them differently. Try living out love today.

Prayer: O God, in Jesus Christ you show us your great love for us and for all of creation. Help us to love one another. Make love our law, rather than rules or opinions or cultural norms.  Teach us to be gracious just as you have been gracious with us. 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].

Friday July 28 2017

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Scripture: Mark 5:21-43

Key verses: (23, 34) and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Reflection: Mark writes “sandwich stories” in his gospel. A sandwich story is where one story starts (bread), an interruption occurs (meat, cheese, veggies), and then the first story ends (second piece of bread).  In today’s passage Jairus, a synagogue leader, comes to Jesus and asks for him to come and heal his daughter.  On the way, a hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ clothes and is healed. After interacting with her, Jesus resumes his journey to Jairus’ house and heals Jairus’ daughter.  The story of Jairus and his daughter is the bread, and the story of the hemorrhaging woman is the filling in the sandwich.

These two stories are woven together with wonderful similarities and contrasts.  Jairus is a powerful man who comes boldly to fall at Jesus’ feet and beg him for help. The bleeding woman doesn’t even have a name in the story and she comes timidly from behind just to touch Jesus’ clothes.  Jesus heals two female characters in this sandwich story, raising a little girl from death in a culture that regularly abandoned female babies after birth, and taking notice of a lowly woman who touched his clothes in a crowd of people who were pressing in all around him. A bleeding woman was ritually unclean, and anyway it was taboo for any woman to interact with a holy man in public. Jairus begs for help for his daughter and Jesus calls the woman “daughter.” The little girl is twelve years old and the woman has been bleeding for twelve years.

Jesus valued both of them. Jesus went with Jairus to his house to heal his daughter, and Jesus stopped for the bleeding woman.  Jesus values each person as a child of God, a daughter or a son in God’s kingdom. Jesus responds to the heartbroken cries of the powerful and prestigious.  And Jesus is willing to be interrupted by someone deemed dirty or worthless in our world.  Jesus cares about hurting broken people, no matter who they are.

Prayer: You are the Great Physician, O Lord. Today bring healing to my wounds. And help me to be your disciple, valuing all people as your children and offering aid to anyone in need. 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 July 27 2017

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Scripture: Mark 5:1-20

Key verses: (18-20) 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Reflection: Jesus has been teaching and healing in Galilee. He has called disciples and taught them in parables. Great crowds follow him to listen to him and witness his power. He has upset the Pharisees with his activities on the Sabbath and some of his teachings. Just before this story in the gospel of Mark, Jesus gets into a boat to cross with his disciples to the “other side,” extending his reach beyond Galilee. A great storm sweeps over the sea, and Jesus calms it, astonishing his friends. His power over the natural forces that threaten human life mystifies them.

When they land in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus shows them his power to calm forces that destroy human life from within. They meet a man possessed by a legion of demons. He has been banished to live among the tombs, where he howls and bruises himself with stones. I assume that his demons were some variety of mental illness of which there was no knowledge or treatment in that time. Jesus heals him, and the man begs to follow Jesus. Who can blame him? He will not have an easy time of it if he stays in town, even healed. Because of him, two thousand swine were destroyed, a fortune belonging to someone who will undoubtedly be angry. The people in the area don’t seem to welcome the man back in his right mind. They are mostly afraid. They ask Jesus to leave.

Jesus tells the man to go and tell others what the Lord had done for him. This is sometimes the hard part, isn’t it? We like to keep these kinds of things private, if we can. Talking about our healing means we have to talk about our illness, or weakness, or failing, or mistakes. We have to expose our need for Jesus before we can describe his mercy to us. In this way, the man was at an advantage. Everyone already knew what was up with him. When he shows up healed, talking and proclaiming the grace of Jesus, people are amazed. This is how the gospel spreads.

What story of God’s mercy do you have to tell?

Prayer: Lord, you know me. You know my need for you. Help me welcome your healing, and then make me bold to go and tell. Open my mouth and my lips will proclaim your praise. In the name of Christ, who has the power to calm and heal every storm and demon, 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 July 26 2017

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Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

Key verses: (37-41) 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Reflection: Fear is something we all experience, so we can put ourselves into this passage. We can understand what the disciples were feeling. The anxiety seeping into the core of their being as water came crashing over the sides of the boat.  It is not hard to get to a place of deep fear.  What is hard to understand is the question Jesus asked the disciples. “Why are you afraid?” Are you kidding me?

The disciples find themselves caught up in a storm on Lake Galilee. The waves begin pounding the boat and they are terrified. As experienced fisherman, they knew this sea. They may have faced terrible squalls before today that appeared without warning.  Their fear is real and Jesus is asleep.

As followers of Jesus, there are times when we have to speak out of obedience and love.  We must find the courage to stand by Jesus, trust in his presence even in the midst of our fear.  Jesus is Lord of our lives. Our faith should be a witness to others that in the midst of storms and great fear, there is a peace that only Christ can offer to us.

Prayer: God, give me courage to stop in the midst of any storm I face today with trust and confidence.  Give me a deep abiding peace. I promise to be receptive to that peace.  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].

 

Tuesday July 25 2017

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Scripture: Mark 4:21–34

Key verse: (25) For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Reflection: Well, this sounds a little unfair if yet familiar: what makes success more than success?  Taken at face value this sounds like Jesus either observing or endorsing the idea that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Shouldn’t those who already have some not get as much so those who have none get a little?

A promise of such material rewards would not sound much like good news to those Jesus was preaching to by the sea; they didn’t have much of those.  Jesus has just shared the parable of the sower which is a clue that Jesus is not talking about wealth or material blessings but instead seems to be offering an invitation to trust, or biblically speaking: to have faith.

If you dare to trust a little you will find yourself trusting more and more each day.  To try trusting God is the path to start trusting God more, a blessing that gives rise to abundant spiritual gifts. To give God nothing is to find that you are filled with exactly that.

Prayer:  O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of your presence, your love, and your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to you, we shall see your hand, your purpose, your will through all things.

-Ignatius of Loyola

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 July 24 2017

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Scripture: Mark 4:1-20

Key verse: (9) “And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen.’”

Reflection: The parable of the sower has always been 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, thankfully 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.  For the love of God, give the seed a chance!  This makes no sense.

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.  This is not the way people with any sense sow seeds.  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; 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. That floods the wheat market, so wheat seed becomes dirt cheap!  According to Jesus, the kingdom of God is like that.

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 no limit to this love.  There is not scarcity when it comes to this love.  So God need not conduct a soil test to consider whether the soil is worthy of being sown, worthy of receiving this love—which is a good thing!  Because 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, sprouting under the surface at first, starting as small as a mustard seed, by God’s grace 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.

As his disciples, we are called to sow these seeds of love in our world, in the same manner as the Sower.  It is difficult to sow seeds this way.  It’s hard not to conduct soil tests to determine if the soil is promising or not; to not simply seek out good soil to sow seeds so that a rich harvest is guaranteed.  It’s hard to realize the germination of that seed is not within our power to control, that we simply sow the seed and God alone gives the growth.  And it can be incredibly painful to sow seeds of love and watch them sprout only to whither, or watch as the thorns of the world choke away life, or see that seed snatched up before it ever had a chance to grow.  But that’s what happens when you’re sowing the seeds of the kingdom in the midst of this harsh world.

So we keep sowing seeds knowing that the majority may not yield fruit, 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: “May the seed of your love take root in my heart this day, O God.  May it find good soil, that my life might yield abundantly for your beloved community.  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 July 21 2017

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Scripture: Mark 3:7-19a

Key verse: (14) And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the message.

Reflection: What was Jesus thinking?  Doesn’t he know that if you want to get a job done, you should do it yourself?  Jesus chose twelve people who would work alongside him and who would be sent out to proclaim his message.  The word “apostle” literally means “sent one.”  Apostles are sent, commissioned by an authority to deliver a message to someone. The implication is that the apostles are trustworthy and that Jesus trusted them with his message. Their mistakes and weaknesses wouldn’t destroy the good news. He chose twelve and sent them out into the world.

What was Jesus thinking?  Doesn’t he know that the most efficient and effective groups are comprised of like-minded people? Jesus chose twelve people who were an unlikely crew of co-workers. There were four fishermen, including two brothers who earned the nickname “Sons of Thunder “(hotheaded young men perhaps?). There was a tax collector named Matthew who worked for the Roman government and would have been seen as a dirty traitor. There was Simon the Cananaean, in other gospels called “Simon the Zealot,” who likely was a revolutionary hoping to overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel’s sovereignty.  The twelve apostles remind us that from the beginning the followers of Jesus have had diametrically opposed views about the world and have had to figure out what it means to minister together.

What was Jesus thinking? Doesn’t he know that you should choose your friends wisely? Jesus chose Judas to be an apostle.  The gospel writer tells us now, in chapter three, that Judas is the one who betrayed him (which won’t happen until chapter fourteen). Judas’ betrayal hangs over him like a dark cloud from the beginning. Judas is in the mix, entrusted with the message, given the authority of the gospel.  And he is the one who betrays Jesus. Jesus calls sinners to follow him, even those who betray him personally.

My name and your name aren’t on the list in this passage, but imagine if our names were listed.  Imagine that Jesus entrusts us with the message of grace and sends us into the world. Imagine that we serve alongside people with whom we disagree, sometimes vehemently.  Imagine that among us are sinners, even those who betray Jesus in horrible ways.  You don’t need your imagination – this is real life! We are called and sent out, serving with all sorts of people and making big mistakes. Jesus chooses to use us, even us.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, remind me of your call in my life. Equip me to serve you faithfully. Use me to share your good news today. 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 July 20 2017

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Scripture: Mark 2:23-3:6

Key verses: (27-28) “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Reflection: I grew up in a family that observed the Sabbath.  We couldn’t do anything on Sunday except go to church, come home and eat lunch together.  No stores were open, so we couldn’t shop.  Movie theaters, grocery stores and every other kind of business were closed.  The TV was turned off.  What a relief when I was old enough for youth group!  I could get out of the house and do something!  Even going back to the church was better than being stuck at home.  When I grew up and was finally out on my own, I realized that the Sabbath was meant to be observed as a gift from God — a day to enjoy family and friends and take a break from the everyday routine of work.  It was a day for building a relationship with God and others by focusing on things other than work or other obligations.  So, I began to look forward to the Sabbath as a break from the routine.

In Ancient Israel there were strict religious laws regarding the Sabbath.  Keeping the Sabbath was a way to honor God.  However, like any rule, human beings had a way of distorting the original purpose. In our passage today, Jesus is criticized because his disciples were picking grains of wheat as they walked along.  To the Pharisees, who were determined to find fault, this was considered work and a violation of the law.  They were determined to be set apart from the culture around them.  In the secular culture of the Roman Empire, all days were alike. There was no day of rest.  It was a 24/7 culture.  Sound familiar?

The everyday obligations of life continue to call out to us — work, school, social media, you name it.  We are afraid to disconnect, even for one day, because we might miss something.  In the end, we can easily miss the Sabbath and forget to take time to build relationships and celebrate being with our friends and family.  We forget to rest.

How do you spend the Sabbath?  How would you like to spend the Sabbath?

Prayer: Loving God, we give thanks for the gift of the seventh day you created for us. May we use the Sabbath to rest in you, give thanks for friends and family, build relationships and show compassion and love to our neighbors.  Help us give thanks for this wonderful gift.  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].

Wednesday July 19 2017

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Scripture: Mark 2:13–22

Key verses: (18-22) Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Reflection: The Pharisees were disciplined; fasting, tithing and reading God’s word. They prayed faithfully but they did not accept Jesus.  When God poured out new wine, it was lost on them. The Pharisees were dedicated to their spiritual disciplines and missed a real connection to God. Can we make the same mistake today?  Do we recognize Jesus as he shows up in our world?

God continues to do new things today. Drawing from Jesus’ metaphor, our desire is to drink the new wine, the truth of the good news.  This wine is to be poured out into fresh wineskins. New wine brings new and creative ways to pray or worship. New wine brings to our hearts the injustices facing our culture and the opportunity to join in the work for justice. New wine brings compassion and kindness to take the lead in our daily lives.

New wine helps us take notice. New wine heightens our awareness that God is at work. New wine invites us to listen to new voices in culture and even look for those voices. Some may look different than we could ever have imagined.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving and patient God, don’t give up on us. We are slow, but it is our deepest desire to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth. Thank you for the new day to being again. 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].

Tuesday July 18 2017

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Scripture: Mark 2:1-12

Key verse: (11) ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’

Reflection: Here is something Jesus never said: Not a hand out but a hand up.

Dangerous to play this game (Jesus never said anything about Netflix binging either) but there are some sayings we are sure Jesus did say, or wished he had, and I think this is one of them.

As I understand it, it’s an important message.  We want to empower each other, build each other up and this can best happen not by doing everything for another as if they were powerless, but by helping our friends discover their own abilities and motivations —  a hand up.  However, aphorisms are tricky and can say little and hide much.  An oft-repeated saying starts to comfort us more than encourage us, a sound bite that helps us avoid nuances and the messiness of human complexity.

There is a man in our story today who by all accounts is helpless.  He is referred to as a paralytic (wince as condition is the sole definition of someone) and needs his friends to help him get to Jesus.  Hard to know if his friends were being frat boys or faithful par excellence as they cut a hole in the roof to get their friend where he needs to be!? I mean, c’mon boys.

Yet, Jesus helps him and heals him.  The man does nothing and says nothing.  Only when it is over does he get up and walk home.

What happens next?  Who knows, not part of the story right now. He might have gone home to watch Netflix, finally golf those 18 holes, enrolled in seminary, settled a long grudge, opened a skylight business or dedicated his life to the crippled.  What he does is not the story, what Jesus did is the point. The kingdom of God cannot be truly measured in the metric of success, numbers, outcomes.  The kingdom of God is not defined by what you do but by what is given to you:  Love.  Mercy.  Grace.   You might waste those gifts or you might in turn share them.  Jesus just handed our nameless lucky friend in the story a gift — a complete hand out because sometimes that is just what is needed.  What happens is not often up to us, but what we can do in a given moment when confronted with the challenge of the world is.  Sometimes a hand up is required and sometimes, a hand out is all we can do.  What happens with that gift is I guess God’s business.

Prayer: God, for the holy mix of mercy and motivation you pour out upon us, we praise you.  May we welcome and imitate as able, your loving, scandalous love. 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].