Thursday November 30 2017

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Scripture: Zephaniah 3: 1-13

Key verse: (12) “For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly.  They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD – . . .”

Reflection: I can’t remember the last time I read Zephaniah.  It’s not exactly the kind of book that one turns to for solace or joy.  Even though the prophets predicted both doom and hope, Zephaniah is only three chapters long, so it is heavy on doom.

The prophet Zephaniah was sent by God to warn the people of Israel and the nations that destruction was on the way because they broke their covenant relationship with God.  The sins of both peoples had consequences for the entire world – everyone was being affected by their choices.  The nine oracles of this book take us through a list of crimes and punishments.  Our passage today is the sixth oracle, highlighting Jerusalem’s leaders’ failure to obey God.  No doubt there were faithful individuals living in Israel at that time – people who loved and served God.  But, the society was destructive and self-destructing. It would come to an end, but not without God making one more plea for them to return to the LORD.

As I read through this book again, I couldn’t help but think about the times we are living in.  As my grandmother used to say – “there is no shame!”  It’s not unusual for every generation to think that the generation that follows them is worse off.  In our rapidly changing culture, it doesn’t take a generation anymore to see collapse happen in one way or another.  And the choices one country makes can have a ripple effect around the globe. Given the reality of living in the midst of the negativity and the deep divide in our world, I find myself asking: what do we value? And what are we seeking?  The inhumanity and objectification we are capable of is staggering.  Where does faith fit into the picture?  Where have we placed our trust?   And, how can we let God use us as beacons of hope?  I pray we will humble ourselves and seek refuge in the LORD.

Recently, I read a prayer written by James A. Forbes, Jr. and I offer part of this prayer to you today.

Prayer: Almighty God, “because our needs are so great today, and your care so constant, we know that you are rebuilding the network of compassion around new visionaries who you have assembled for this hour.  Surprise us with the discovery of how much power we have to make a difference in our day: – a difference in the way citizens meet, greet, respect, and protect the rights of each other, – a difference in the breadth of our vision of what is possible in humanization, reconciliation, and equalization of results in our great city, – a difference in the way government, business, and labor can work together, for justice and social enrichment, – a difference in our response to the needy, and a difference in our appreciation for those who give of themselves for the surviving and thriving of our beautiful people . . . This is our fervent and sincere prayer.  Amen.”

(taken from Conversations with God:  Two Centuries of Prayer by African Americans, New York: HarperCollins, 1994, p. 260-61)

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].

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Wednesday November 29 2017

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Scripture: 1 Peter 2:1-10

Key verse: (5) “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Reflection: Our church buildings have beautiful stone exteriors.  If you stop and look closely, you will notice that no two stones are alike. Each stone is uniquely shaped. A stonemason did masterful work in forming those stones together to make a structure.

First Peter was a letter written to encourage early Christians in their faithfulness. The writer uses the metaphor of a stone structure to describe how God works to unite disciples into a spiritual community. Each stone is essential. Each stone will bear weight for the finished structure. (Have you played Jenga? Remove a wooden block and you risk the tower tumbling down.)  And each stone is unique. No two disciples are alike and that is part of what makes our spiritual community stronger and more beautiful.

Did you notice the verbs in “let yourselves be built’? The writer doesn’t say “build yourselves into a spiritual house.” We are not the builders. We are merely stones. And we surrender our lives to our Lord who will be the stonemason using us to make something bigger than we can imagine.

Entrust yourself into the hands of God and allow God to use you in the world. Be a living part of a spiritual community because we depend on you and your gifts and your commitment. When you don’t participate, everyone loses something and the spiritual house isn’t as strong or as beautiful as it can be.

Prayer: Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, O God. Teach me to trust in him and to allow him to lead me. Strengthen my faithfulness to community life. Use me Lord, use even me.  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].

 

Tuesday November 28 2017

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Scripture: 1 Peter 1:13-25

Key verses: (13-16) 13Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Reflection: It’s almost time again. Christmas is just around the corner, and coming fast. If you look around, it’s already arrived in the stores and public spaces. Here at the church we drag our feet some, insisting on four weeks of Advent waiting, to help us prepare. This year Advent begins this coming Sunday, and continues all the way through our morning service on the 24th. Some of us love that time of slow building anticipation. We need the reminder that light begins in darkness, and is sometimes hard to see at first, and in order to fully appreciate it, you have to wait and watch the light grow. Others get impatient and want to jump into joy and baby Jesus and spend as much time rejoicing as possible, because God knows the message of light breaking into darkness needs to be remembered every day.

Honestly, the older I get the less the whole Advent/Christmas timetable debate seems to matter. If we all keep our focus on Jesus, if we “set all our hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring” when he is revealed, then we will all get to the manger and the good news eventually. Whether we walk slowly towards Bethlehem, or run headlong and breathless, it is the Christ child who makes our journey holy. We might even find he is making us holy too, if we pay attention.

Prayer: Lord, I wait again for your arrival. Help me keep my eyes on you. Accompany me on the way to Bethlehem this year. Make me holy, as you are holy. In your name 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].

 

 

Monday November 27 2017

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Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-12

Key verses: (8-9) Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Reflection: A driver’s license examiner told about a teenager who had just driven an almost perfect test. “He made his only mistake,” said the examiner, “when he stopped to let me out of the car. After breathing a sigh of relief, the boy exclaimed, ‘I’m sure glad I don’t have to drive like that all the time!’”

I don’t like sharing a story that I have not experienced, but I thought it was hysterical. I imagine many of us leaving church, taking off our Sunday jewelry or sport coat saying something similar. On Sunday, we look, talk and act in a manner that leads others to believe we are genuine disciples of Jesus. Then Monday begins and we can no longer see Jesus. Every day we should rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy. Not because of anything we do but because of everything God does.

That does not mean we need to wear our Sunday clothes every day. It means that regardless of the day, people around us should feel the love of God through us.

Prayer: God of life and love, enter into our lives today with your Holy Spirit that we might get carried away with an indescribable joy. May you act in us and through us this day and everyday. 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].

Friday November 24 2017

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Scripture: Psalm 20

Key verses: (3-4)

3 May he remember all your offerings,

and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.

4 May he grant you your heart’s desire,

and fulfill all your plans.

Reflection: It’s the perfect text for our made up Black Friday holiday — it’s like God is blessing and encouraging all of our shopping fantasies: may he grant you your hearts desire!

But quickly let’s note that the Bible doesn’t once mention shopping malls. In this psalm it’s not really about what you can get, but more in celebrating what you have done.  Your offerings, which is to say all that you do and say and share and give — God remembers!  Nothing is lost with our Lord.  Like a parent who keeps every pipe cleaner bracelet and hand print painted on construction paper — our Lord gathers our offerings, accepting and celebrating our efforts at pleasing him.

If you have a moment today, look over your work, think about the offerings of love you meted out lately, the food you prepared, the hugs you gave, the hands you held, the words you said (or the words you held back!) and ask God to bless it all,  to take your giving and deepen it.  Invite God to take your offerings and run with them — so that through him, your gifts become very real reminders of what is good, of what is fair, what is right and what is true.  Ask God to join you and help you do what you can with what you have, where you are.  God will make your offerings an even bigger deal than you will find shopping today. Guaranteed.

Prayer: Lord, see me as I love and share in these festive days.  Take what I give  and enable through your power to make my gifts, blessings to those who need them most. 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 November 23 2017

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Scripture: Revelation 21:22-22:5

Key verse: (22:2) “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

Reflection: Happy Thanksgiving!  The daily lectionary offers us a reading from the end of Revelation — nothing like an apocalyptic vision to get the juices flowing for today’s feasts.

John’s vision describes the City of God, our destiny as God’s people.  It is a glorious vision. There is no Temple in the city — good news for us pastors, our work is done!  It is not needed, for we will all dwell within God.  There’s no dreary darkness; God’s glory is the only light needed.  It’s gates are always open, and the nations stream in with all their resources for all to enjoy.  Evil is not allowed, but since it was destroyed in chapter 20, we need not worry about that.  There’s a beautiful river flowing through the middle of the city, with a great tree providing abundant fruit twelve months a year with leaves that heal the world.

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This painting by James Janknegt is no doubt inspired by John’s vision.  This beautiful tree, with a river around it, abundant fruit provided for all to eat, big beautiful leaves —surely they hold healing powers. Underneath the tree a family enjoys a feast.  It looks like Thanksgiving.  Yet the painting is incongruent.  Around the tree there is a different picture.  Sawing, burning, trees being felled. And beneath the table, furniture making.  In North Carolina, that would surely be hopeful.  It’s entitled, “Furniture Making During Drought Time.” It seems to show prosperity in the midst of struggle, or perhaps illumines the incongruity of prosperity and struggle.

That’s what Revelation is in its original context.  It is a vision of hope in the midst of a world where Christians were struggling; enduring great persecution.  It’s a vision of victory for God in a world where it seems evil too often wins.

So it is with Thanksgiving.  This day we embody life as it is supposed to be lived, orienting our lives around thanksgiving to God and to one another.  Embodying this thanksgiving through love in a world too often defined by division and hate.

Perhaps the reading from Revelation is perfect for today.   In a world where religion too often divides us, where darkness seems to define the day, where wars devastate nations and produce refugees who flee only to find locked gates, where abominations define most headlines and homepages, where the vast majority of the world never knows a day of feasting like Thanksgiving,  may God’s vision of tomorrow pour into our Thanksgiving Day, inspiring us to join God’s transforming work in the world.

Prayer: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 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 November 22 2017

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Scripture: Matthew 17: 22-27

Key verses: (22-23) “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill him, . . .”

Reflection: While they are gathered together, Jesus springs this bad news on them – he was going to be arrested and killed.  I wonder went through the disciples minds.  It says that they felt grief when he told them this, but did they understand?  I think that the thought of his death was inconceivable to them, including the promise that after three days he would be raised from the dead.  Denial can be a wonderful thing.  It can keep us from facing the inevitable.  We don’t want to think about how many years, months or days are left. Denial of death is all around us and it takes many shapes and forms.

The disciples would soon find out that they were not following a worldly king who promised power and position.  Jesus was a different kind of king.  He was the Messiah. He lived our life, died our death and was miraculously raised from the dead.  Jesus healed the sick, gave hope to the broken-hearted, protected the weak and forgave the most heinous sin.  He preached a message of hope that changed the lives of countless people.  All these acts of compassion challenged worldly power and he knew he would be killed for it.  He would end up paying the ultimate price.  But, praise be to God the grave could not hold him and his message of love and justice continues.

Prayer: Eternal God, we give thanks for Jesus who called us to take up our cross and follow him.  We confess it can be challenging to follow Jesus.  Give us courage to stand up for what is right as we work to correct what is wrong in our community and world giving thanks for Jesus’ example.  In His 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].