Tuesday October 31 2017

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Scripture: Rev 4:1-11

Key verse: (8) And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,

“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”

Reflection: Great verse to kick off Halloween!  Anyone going dressed up like the six winged, all-seeing hairy eyeball covered cherubim?  I would give all of my candy at once to any biblically brave and literate child who did. More than how they look though I like what they sing. Growing up my home church started every Sunday morning singing the first verse of a hymn based on those words:

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

I guess that’s old fashioned now, no one wants to sing the same thing every Sunday, year in and year out.  I tried to institute it in the first church I served with no luck. It’s a missed opportunity though.  That verse is deep in my muscle memory and will be with me as long as the scar on my right hand from my first pocket knife.  There is somewhere in my brain where that refrain is sung day and night without ceasing and I can sometimes hear it and join along.  I hear Mr. Jim in his deep baritone and Mrs. Dipchand with her beautiful East Indian cadence; I hear my Mother whose singing voice did not match her enthusiasm for singing and I hear my Father, who can sing, humming along.  Not just a hymn but an entire congregation on earth and in heaven are forever with me and I suppose I am ever a part of.  Such is the blessing of the communion of saints, that great company that has claimed us.

Prayer:  Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

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 October 30 2017

Monday

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-20

Key verses: (17-18) “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I hold the keys of Death and of Hades.”

Reflection: Mainline Protestants often ignore the Book of Revelation.  In fact, through the ages the canonicity of Revelation has been questioned by many.  This is a shame, as we have yielded this rich text to other expressions of Christianity that have mutated it into a road map to the end times, making of it a Nostradamus-like predictor, assigning various contemporary figures to its ancient metaphors.  Such an interpretation assumes the original letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor meant absolutely nothing to them.  If it’s only about the end-times unfolding in our lifetime, then it’s apparently meant nothing to 2,000 years of Christians who have read it.  Such an understanding of Revelation is deeply flawed.  Revelation has much to offer Christians who find themselves living under the weight of the world’s power.  Such was the case for many in the churches of Asia to whom it was originally written; though some in those churches had become a bit too comfortable with the ways of Rome’s empire.  To them, the letter is a warning about ultimate authority.

Chapter 1 sets the scene.  We meet John, a first century disciple who shares in the persecution of the saints, who writes from the island of Patmos.  I remember a sermon by Preaching Professor, Dr. Anna Carter Florence on this passage.  She said something like, “There are people who have vision in our world.  We respect them.  We elect them to leadership positions.  We nominate them to be elders in the church.  Then there are people who have visions.  We medicate them.  John of Patmos was a person who had visions.”  Indeed, John had many visions of the world beyond this world that is the kingdom of God, and how that world is working to transform our world into a new creation.  In this first chapter, he is given a vision of the Glorified Christ.  The imagery to describe him is taken from Daniel and Isaiah.  It is a glorious vision beyond our comprehension.  In response, he falls down as though he is dead.  And what are the first words of the Glorified Christ in Revelation?  “Do not be afraid.”  This is the number one quote of God, God’s messengers, and the Risen Christ throughout the Bible.  “Do not be afraid.”  Yet too often, what have we done with Revelation?  Used it to scare the he$@ out of people—literally.   It’s most important message, however, is: “Do not be afraid!”

Why?  Spoiler alert!  Because God’s going to win.  Despite all evidence to the contrary in their world, or in ours for that matter, God’s going to win. Christ holds the keys to life and death, and that victory is already his.  It is the destiny of creation to be transformed into the Kingdom of God that is the New Creation of Revelation 21.  It is pre-destined!  While battles may continue to rage, the war has been won.  God’s love prevails.

So, we will not fear.  No matter what.

Prayer: O Lord, as I feel the weight of the world this day, should it frighten me, or cause me to worry, or agitate me with anxiety, may I know the touch of your hand upon me, and hear your voice saying, “Do not be afraid.”  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 October 27 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 12:22-32

Key verse: (30) “Whoever is not with me is against me; . . .”

Reflection: Like the crowds who followed Jesus, I continue to be amazed every time someone is healed.  The Pharisees who witnessed this healing don’t seem particularly amazed.  They only get excited when the crowd began to ask questions about whether Jesus was the long-awaited Son of David, the Messiah who would save Israel.  This drew the Pharisees attention.  Declaring yourself the Messiah was blasphemy against God.   Jesus is accused of being Beelzebul — the king of demons.  It doesn’t make sense.  So much good is being done.  But, they felt threatened by Jesus. Jesus could take the name calling and the constant scrutiny because he was providing compassionate healing and freedom to those who were suffering.  An old mentor of mine used to say that “no good deed goes unpunished” (especially when it challenges the powers that be).  Jesus challenged the religious leaders and “powers that be” of his day.   He responded by saying that he healed by the power of the Spirit of God, so how could he be casting out demons by the power of the demon who was causing the suffering.

Jesus could handle the criticism, but he warns them about blaspheming the Holy Spirit – which the Pharisees were doing.   Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is called unforgivable – now and forever.  Strong words. Apparently, we can revile God and Jesus, but not the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is a coarsening that occurs within us when we criticize kindness, charity, healing, compassion and all other works of the Spirit.  This kind of coarsening can cut us off from our emotions and ourselves to such a point that nothing is sacred and the heart becomes hardened.  Is this what Jesus is talking about when he talks about blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Is it a hardness of heart, practiced over many years, that separates people from God’s forgiveness?  Each of us has the capacity to say and do the most horrible things to each other, yet Jesus forgives us.  So, he isn’t talking about any ordinary kind of sin.  Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is in a special category.  This is a warning.  We become what we practice.  God doesn’t do anything to harm us, we harm ourselves.

Are you for or against Jesus and God’s work in the world? Does your everyday life speak louder than words about who you really are and who you follow? Do you embrace all that is good and kind; honorable and pure?  Are you willing to draw close to God and discover the depth and breadth of God’s power to forgive, transform and heal?  What is holding you back?

Prayer: Merciful God, help us be for you and live out the grace you have placed in each of our lives.  And, if we are unsure about your love and mercy, provide us with the time and space we need to sit in your presence, listen for your still small voice, and respond to your invitation.  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].

Thursday October 26 2017

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 16:1-9

Key verse: (2) On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.

Reflection: I was in a church budget meeting when the treasurer shared that he would send the annual mission gift from the money available at the end of the year.  I asked some questions and learned that this congregation always made a commitment to mission giving but then waited until the end of the year to give whatever was left over.  The leftovers never matched the hoped-for commitment.  I suggested a paradigm shift – what if the treasurer divided the commitment by twelve and then sent a check each month for that amount? Make the commitment and do it first rather than wait until the end to see what’s left. It felt scary but the elders voted to do it. In God’s economy, the paradigm shift led to a transformation of the church’s finances. The church was able to give the full amount to mission and to pay all of the other bills on time.

Now that may sound hokey or unbelievable, but it’s a true story from my experience as pastor of that congregation.  I wonder how it might apply to our own lives. Do you make a pledge to give regularly to the church?  If not, why not? Do you wait to see what’s “leftover” and then make a donation to get a tax deduction?

Today’s scripture comes from the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  Paul is asking for financial help for the church in Jerusalem.  He plans to pick up the money when he’s in Corinth and then deliver it to Jerusalem. Rather than having a scramble to collect money at the last minute, Paul suggests that the Corinthians should set aside money regularly for the donation. Paul knows that we are called to be faithful, generous managers of our resources and he gives very specific instructions about how to live that out. How can Paul’s instructions help your own faithfulness with what you have?

Prayer: All that I have belongs to you, O God. Teach me to be faithful with my resources. Transform my hopes into reality in the way I use my money. 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 October 25 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11

Key verse: (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.

Reflection: One of my favorite ways to consider a Psalm is to read it in a different version. While I love the familiarity of the NRSV, I find God opens up a new idea when I read something less familiar. Today, try this version of Psalm 147:1-11 from Eugene Peterson’s interpretation from The Message. What is God saying to you today?

 

Hallelujah!
It’s a good thing to sing praise to our God;
praise is beautiful, praise is fitting.

God’s the one who rebuilds Jerusalem,
who regathers Israel’s scattered exiles.
He heals the heartbroken
and bandages their wounds.
He counts the stars
and assigns each a name.
Our Lord is great, with limitless strength;
we’ll never comprehend what he knows and does.
God puts the fallen on their feet again
and pushes the wicked into the ditch.

Sing to God a thanksgiving hymn,
play music on your instruments to God,
Who fills the sky with clouds,
preparing rain for the earth,
Then turning the mountains green with grass,
feeding both cattle and crows.
He’s not impressed with horsepower;
the size of our muscles means little to him.
Those who fear God get God’s attention;
they can depend on his strength.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes, my ears, my soul to what you have to say to me today. Keep me always looking and listening for you. 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].

Tuesday October 24 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 11: 25-30  

Key verses: (28-30) “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Reflection: I love this passage because at first glance, it sounds like an invitation to a good nap! Jesus calls those of us who are worn out to come and rest.  I’M IN! Who is with me?

It is appealing given everything going on in this world on top of the regular stress from family and jobs. Many of us would love nothing more than Jesus to just take the weight from us.

It doesn’t happen exactly that way. Well, not at all that way. We are asked to trust Jesus and take on a different yoke. Jesus becomes a yoke, a way of life. Following Jesus we navigate our challenges and maybe we realize we were never meant to carry our burdens alone.  Faith calls us to trust God’s way and not our own way. It is hard, but in the end we find rest for our souls.

Prayer: God, in my weariness guide me to your path. Help me crawl out from wherever I am buried or hiding and follow your Son with trust. 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 October 23 2017

Monday

Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verses: (8-9)

8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The Lord is good to all,

and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Reflection: Later in James we will read that as disciples and followers of Christ we are to be slow to anger and full of compassion.  Of course we are!  It is a noble and worthy pursuit as we begin a new day and new week to seek what is best from within in order to bless and encourage those around us.

But sometimes I can’t.  Maybe more times than I admit, I fail.  Anger being the drug that it is just feels good in the moment, it releases me from responsibility and creates an alternate reality where I for a time am powerful and faultless.  But it doesn’t last because it isn’t true.  Anger robs me of power more than it gives me anything.  The Lord is slow to anger because the Lord is not seduced by its destructive tricks.  The Lord knows that true power is found not in anger but in love and compassion.  Compassion means to co-suffer, a word that reveals God’s motivations.  God chooses to suffer with rather than accuse or blame.

I don’t know what I am capable of this week, but I trust what God is able to do with me and all of creation. With God’s help perhaps, I pray, I can be slow to anger and abounding in love.

Prayer: God who is quick to love, responsive with mercy, swift to save and generous with grace — I praise you.  I also seek you so that all I do this week may reflect you, imitate you and honour you.  Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].