Thursday August 31 2017

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Scripture: Acts 27:27-44

Key verse: (44b) And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

Reflection: Have you ever realized that many churches are built to resemble a ship? Look up at the ceiling and see how the curves are like the bottom of a large boat. Early Christian believers connected the church with the story of Noah’s ark. The church is the gathering of those being saved by God.

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Today’s passage is near the end of the book of Acts, the story of the early church and the spread of the gospel to new people and places. In this story, Paul was under arrest and placed on a ship bound for Rome. The ship encountered strong difficult winds and the journey slowed.  Paul counseled his centurion guard that they should stop but the centurion listened to the pilot and continued the voyage.  Eventually a strong storm pounded the ship and the crew threw cargo overboard. After fourteen days of drifting in stormy waters, the sailors suspected that they were near land. The sailors tried to escape by lowering a small boat down into the water but Paul called for them all to stay together. Paul led them in a meal, which seems very much like the sacrament of communion. The next morning the sailors see the shore and try to sail to dry land, but the ship ran aground and broke into pieces. All of the people on the boat jumped overboard, some swimming and others floating on planks. Everyone made it safely to land.

Could this be a lesson for the church of Jesus Christ today? It might feel like the church is tossed about by stormy winds and rough waters. The culture around us is changing rapidly. We are uncertain about the future. Within any congregation, we might be tempted to “jump ship” and escape for shore on our own. Staying together in the church is difficult because we disagree about political and moral issues. Let’s face it, staying together on the boat means putting up with people we don’t like. We might keep our name on the membership roll but stop coming except for Christmas and Easter. We might tell ourselves that we can have a relationship with Jesus Christ on our own just fine and we don’t need a church to make that happen.

Paul told the centurion and the soldiers on the ship, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” More or less, whether we like it or not, our salvation is interwoven with community. God gathers those who are being saved and there are no life rafts for those who want to do it alone. The church might be difficult sometimes, but it’s better than drowning alone.

Prayer: Thank you for the gift of the church, O God. Knit me into community with others on this voyage so that our futures are interwoven in your gracious will. When I am tempted to jump ship, remind me of the ways your church cares for me and nurtures my faith. Remind me that my gifts and my presence are needed in the boat. 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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Wednesday August 30 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 65

Key verses: (5-8)
5   By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
6   By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
7   You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
8   Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

Reflection: The scenes out of Houston and surrounding areas are hard to watch. There is so much water where there should be dry ground, and roads, and houses and people. Pictures of elderly people, and children, and animals in distress are troubling. The news media is doing their best to capture the stories of heroism and human goodness that always come in the wake of a major disaster, but the devastation continues, and it’s awful.

I read these lines from Psalm 65 and think that people in the midst of the storm and the flooding might have trouble with verses that give praise to God for silencing the roaring of the sea. Because right now there is a whole lot of roaring and tumult and struggling to survive. Many people are still waiting for an answer of deliverance. Their prayers probably sound much more like psalms of lament than psalms of praise, at least right now.

Thanks God for the rescuers! Thank God for those in their little fishing boats and canoes who are looking for neighbors in need. Thank God for the Coast Guard and the National Guard and the sanitation workers driving their vehicles through flooded streets. Thank God for the Red Cross and other disaster agencies and an army of volunteers who are trying to provide shelter to thousands of people who have lost everything. Here at the church we are taking regular calls from folks wanting to know how to help, and what we are doing. We want to DO something. The impulse to help when others are in trouble isn’t limited to followers of Jesus, thanks be to God. But out of our faith, we are moved to compassion, and a desire to give and serve and share. What if these are the ways that God indeed delivers those in trouble?  What if these are the awesome deeds of deliverance that God provides, and the awesome signs that God provides? May our desire to help be part of what makes the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

Prayer: Lord, you are the One who rescues all those in need. We pray for our brothers and sisters suffering from recent storms, in our country and all across the world. Strengthen and deliver them. May you turn prayers into real action. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

Want to help? Our church partners with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in times of need like this. Read more and donate here. http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/tropical-storm-harvey/

[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 August 29 2017

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Scripture: Mark 13:28-37

Key verses: (24-26)

24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
The sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

Reflection: My daughter insisted that we go and see the solar eclipse. I would have been fine live-streaming it on the NASA site. People gathered all along the line projected to see the eclipse. Highways were crowded, small towns were at capacity and the beaches, fields and mountaintops were packed. One to two minutes of complete darkness. It was incredible if a bit anti-climactic but it was an overwhelming community event.  No one talked politics, people shared food like it was the feeding of the 5,000 and laughter was everywhere. In the moments leading up to the eclipse, the crowd hushed with anticipation and then you could almost feel the silent awe and wonder during the eclipse.

Even as the darkness fell on the crowd, we knew the sun would come back.  We also have nothing to fear because we know that God is sovereign over darkness as well as light.   I looked at the crowd and wished we could face all darkness that enters our lives in this same way. Gathering together as a community from all over with good food, laughter, and hope.

Prayer: In moments of darkness, God bring us together in faith and hope. Remind us that we are never alone. As others near us move in and out of dark moments, help us be perceptive to notice.  Be with us this day and every day, 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].

Monday August 28 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 57

Key verse: (1) Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

until the destroying storms pass by.

Reflection: Like your Mom using your full name so you know she means business, a repetitive refrain in a psalm is there to help you really hear and understand the psalmist’s position and need, which in this case is a desire for mercy and refuge.   The word refuge in Hebrew is connected to the word trust.  The word trust in Hebrew can be literally translated: to lay prostrate on the floor.  Now, I know with all of the back to church / work / school / life activities going on, my kitchen floor is no stranger to me lying prostrate, or fetal, on the floor but how is that an image of trust?

Well, for one it’s an image of vulnerability isn’t it?  To lie down, to be still, to be defenseless when destroying storms and frenzied plans and anxious winds are blowing all around takes some trust.  Our impulse is to run, to hide or seek cover.  But to stretch out, lean in, be exposed — that’s something else entirely. That’s trust.  That’s refuge.  That’s God.  Notice how the psalmist describes the destroying storms.  They pass by.  They pass by.

Final thought: where does our psalmist find refuge?  In bed?  Ten seasons in of a Netflix show at 2 a.m.?  Alone? Naw.  In the shadow of God’s wings is where refuge is to be found.  It’s a poetic image that may mean many things to you, but one thing it connects to is the ark of the covenant that would have that image carved above it.  The ark is in church.  Church is where community is.  This is to say that when we are seeking help and safety, when we need to be vulnerable and held and messy and loved it seems that among God’s family is a good place to be.

Prayer: Merciful God who prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies and who makes me lie down and dwell in safety — to you Lord I pray.  Let mercy find and visit me and may trust come quickly to make the destroying storms pass by.  And in what you do for me dear Lord, enable me to do for another. 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].

Friday August 25 2017

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Scripture: Mark 12:35-44

Key verse: (44) “…she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Reflection: My grandfather was not much of a church-goer.  His sister, my great-aunt Clara Belle, was at church every time the doors opened, but my grandfather rarely attended. However, faith was part of his regular vocabulary.  He would joke about the need to get cleaned up and properly dressed, “because the preacher is coming over for supper.”  No preacher ever showed up.  Though I didn’t witness him active in church life, he certainly knew his Bible. It wasn’t until seminary that I realized how many of his sayings came straight from Scripture.   I remember sharing with him my fear about his dying.  And he said, “The Good Lord gives you three score and ten, after that you’re living on bonus.”  I had no idea that was from Psalm 90 until I came across it in a study of the Psalms in seminary.

Another saying of his was, “You’ve got to put in your two cents.”  As a child, I interpreted this to mean, “contribute a little something to everything.”  During a class on the gospel of Mark I remember coming across the gospel reading for today and realizing that’s not at all what my grandfather was telling me.   Read in context, to put in your two cents is to put in everything you’ve got.  That’s what the widow does.  The Greek words translated, “all she had to live on,” actually mean, “her whole living.”  The widow gives everything she has, her whole life.  Jesus uses her offering to illustrate “kingdom math.”  In God’s kingdom, the number of zeros do not reflect the magnitude of the gift.  $10,000 to one person might mean $10 to another depending on the gift’s relationship to the person’s whole life, including their wealth and income. God’s math is not our math.

There is another message in Mark’s version of the story.  Unlike Matthew, Mark puts the story of the widow’s offering immediately after the warning about scribes devouring widows’ houses.  For Mark, the widow’s offering fulfills the condemnation Jesus uttered about the scribes, “who like to walk around in long robes,” and enjoy the prestige of their position.  Jesus says, “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”  Jesus’ words haunt me.  As a modern-day scribe, a teacher of God’s word, they call me to a tremendous accountability when it comes to stewardship of resources entrusted to the church for ministry.  I’m thankful in the Presbyterian Church, teaching elders don’t make the decisions about the money, ruling elders do.  I’m also thankful the congregation votes on our compensation, and that it is shared with the whole Presbytery.  While it’s somewhat uncomfortable for our salaries to be so widely known, it is an important way we are held accountable to those whose resources empower the church’s ministry, and to the broader community of faith.

Jesus’ words also serve as a powerful reminder to us all—be careful to what, or to whom, you give everything you have. There is much in this world that will devour your house to serve its own interests.  Sometimes it’s people.  Sometimes it’s institutions.  Often it’s a false god.  The Living God does not devour houses.  And God would not want to see your house devoured by any idol.  Giving to God’s mission doesn’t devour life, it brings life —and joy and purpose and meaning.  Truth be told, in giving everything we have, our whole living to God, we are not devoured, rather we discover what life is really all about.

Prayer: Most gracious and giving God, thank you for the abundance of blessings you bestow on us.  Give us wisdom to be faithful stewards of all you have entrusted to our care; whether it is much, or not more than a mite.  Empower us to discern your work in this world, and then grant us the faith to offer everything we have in service to You that we might know the life that really is life.  In Christ’s 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].

Thursday August 24 2017

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Scripture: Mark 12:28-34

Key verses: (29-31) Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,’ And the second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Reflection: In first century Judaism, faithful people studied scripture by debating and questioning and disagreeing with one another.  (Does that make you uncomfortable?) In this passage, Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem and was having one conversation after another with leaders there. They questioned him, they challenged him, they even tried to trap him. It’s almost like training a boxer or a wrestler – the struggles are how you grow and become strong.

A scribe saw that Jesus was responding well to all of the challenges so he asked Jesus “which commandment is the first of all?”  Of all the hundreds of commandments, which one is most important? Jesus gave a familiar answer, to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. He then added a second commandment to love neighbor as self. Apparently these two are interwoven and each depends on the other for completion.

When new members join our church, I share these two commandments as the core of our church’s mission.  Everything we do in our ministry is intended to help you love God and love neighbor. We love God as we worship together, we study, we pray, we care for our bodies, we are good stewards of creation, we give generously of our resources. We love our neighbors as we serve one another in ministry. God calls every one of us to live out these two commandments, no matter our circumstance or our location. Where do you need to hone your love? What area needs attention from you today?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for loving me and for showing me your love in Jesus Christ. Shape my life to be more like Christ. Teach me to love you with all that I have and all that I am. Teach me to love my neighbors.  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].

Wednesday August 23 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11

Key verses: (1-5)

1   Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2   The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3   He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4   He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5   Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

Reflection: Did you see the eclipse? Or at least part of it? My family got caught up in the whole thing and traveled to the path of totality for the day. It’s been a while since an event like that has united people across so many different spectrums. It felt to me a little like a national holiday, Super Bowl or World Series win, and New Years’ Eve all rolled into one. Only, instead of celebrating a historic event or sports achievement or holiday, there was this celestial line-up that might truly be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. The people I was with in South Carolina, strangers mostly, were almost giddy together leading up to it. There was a true sense of community. I heard no talk of politics or what divides us. People smiled at one another, shared water and photography tips, and waited patiently together. It got me to thinking about what made it so different from our everyday lives. (Besides the obvious jaw-dropping vision of the moon blocking the sun.)

Here’s my best guess at the difference: we had no control over the eclipse. I got to decide where to go to view it, how to prepare, and where to order my glasses from. But I had no say in the fact that the moon would happen to line up with the sun in such a way that only happens at a few spots on the earth a very few times. And neither did anyone else. We spend so much time controlling our days. We plan for every eventuality, and even the most spontaneous of us pretty much know how things will go a lot of the time. Being in control is a virtue. Being organized and planning ahead is something we try to teach our children to do. It’s a good thing. But it doesn’t always help us trust in God, or one another, or practice faith. Those things involve recognizing the limits of our control. Yesterday was an opportunity to recall that it is God who orders the planets, determines the number of stars, and keeps the whole magnificent universe spinning. Remembering that might help us build more community on our tiny part of that vast universe, all the rest of our days.

Prayer:  God, you spin the whirling planets, fill the seas and spread the plain, mold the mountains, fashion blossoms, call forth sunshine, wind and rain. We, created in your image, would a true reflection be of your justice, grace, and mercy and the truth that makes us free. Amen.
(from Hymn #23 in Glory to God)

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].