Wednesday February 28 2018

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Scripture: Mark 4:1-20

Key verses: (2-3) “He began to teach them many things in parables, . . . Listen! . . .”

Reflection: Everyone enjoys a good story and Jesus was a master storyteller. He was able to take the ordinary things of life and weave them into lessons about important truths. Each of Jesus’ parables focus on a single point. Today’s parable is a familiar one that is both told and interpreted by Jesus. Using metaphorical language, Jesus compares the seed that the farmer sows to the word of God and the different kinds of soil to the condition of an individual person’s heart and mind. Jesus said that some people are like a path, some like rocky soil, some like thorny plants and some good soil. Seed that falls on each kind of ground will do different things. As I have reflected on these kinds of soil, it occurred to me that at any given time, we may be one of these soils. I know there have been times in my life when I was eager to hear, swept up in emotion, but what I heard didn’t stick. There have been times when too much was going on in my life so I didn’t understand what the word was saying to me. I heard the words, felt inspired, but was only temporarily filled with joy because I was consumed with either my cares or my wants. There have been times when I was ready to hear the word, accept it and act on it. God’s call to me and the needs of the world intersected and I was able to be useful for God. But, the main thing this parable has taught me is that I need to listen before I act. I have to recognize and discern God’s voice found in the word. God is generous. But, when I am not listening for God, when I am neglecting my relationship with Christ and my prayer life, when I am struggling and confused, God’s word is either lost in the wind, choked by weeds and thorns, or unproductive because the seeds had shallow roots, yielding nothing.

Lent is a good time to reflect on what kind of followers of Jesus we want to be. This parable invites us to examine our lives and own up to the ways we neglect our relationship with God. Good soil is something we can prepare through our service and devotion to the things and people that God loves, then God will do the rest. This cultivation happens when we participate in the things we are asked to do: to take care of those who are marginalized by homelessness, sickness and grief and to walk humbly with God showing and working for the love, acceptance, forgiveness and justice of God in our and other’s lives. The word invites us to cultivate good soil so that kindness, compassion, self-control, love, and patience can grow up and bear much fruit. My hope is we won’t be like those who look, but can’t perceive; and those who listen, but don’t understand. Because of forgiveness, we can move beyond our neglect and mistakes to experience a full life in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, we invite you to sow the seeds of your word in our lives. Help us prepare our hearts and minds to receive you so that we might be of some use to you in the world. 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].

 

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Tuesday February 27 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 25

Key verses: (4-5) Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

Reflection: Today’s key verses are a wonderful prayer.  The first three steps in the twelve step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous are:

1.       We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become                                        unmanageable.

2.       Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.       Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we                                     understood Him.

The writer of the psalm understood that a power greater than himself could restore him to sanity. The writer proclaims trust in God, knowing that faith in God infuses life with meaning. The writer seeks God’s guidance and God’s will.

Turning our will and our lives over to the care of God is a never-ending process. I give myself to God and then quickly take some back. I trust God but then I become frightened and feel abandoned. I try to live in God’s way and walk in God’s path but then I stray to do my own selfish thing. The psalm’s prayer asks for God to keep on teaching us and leading us. I believe it is a prayer that God will always answer! Often our circumstances don’t change but we can pray that God will equip us to be faithful no matter what our circumstances. God will lead us and teach us if we are receptive to learn. God will restore us to sanity if we can admit that we aren’t able to do it ourselves.

Prayer: Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. 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].

Monday February 26 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 121

Key verses: (1-8)

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills —
from where will my help come?
2   My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

3   He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4   He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5   The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6   The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7   The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8   The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

Reflection: Be still, find a quiet space, and let the St John’s College Choir, Cambridge pray this psalm with you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkIrg0SDSoQ

Prayer: Thank you God, for being my help, my keeper, my shade, and my Lord. 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].

Friday February 23 2018

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Scripture: Mark 2:13-22

Key verse: (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: We are a couple of days into Lent and maybe you have given something up or taken something on as your spiritual practice. Since we are in the middle of our Lenten fast, it might seem a bit odd to be talking about Jesus and his disciples refusing to fast but here we are. Jesus is saying that the time is fulfilled and God’s kingdom is arriving. That is why they are not fasting.

Jesus pushes a bit further saying that some things have to change. We can’t squish the new life of the kingdom into old wineskins of that day.  It was not a new set of rules, or a more innovative type of religion but a whole new creation that Jesus was bringing. It is because of that new creation that we take time in this season to bring our lives in line with the Kingdom of God. We give up, take on or fast to say goodbye to everything in us that still clings to the old.

Prayer: Renew me, O God, by your far-reaching grace. Restore me, O God, to your Kingdom of Peace, Truth and Love. 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].

 

Thursday February 22 2018

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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

Key verse: (4) “For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?”

Reflection: Twenty-three years ago Harvard Public Policy Professor, Dr. Robert Putnam published an article in the Journal of Democracy entitled, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.”  The title of the article arose from the whimsical statistic that while between 1980 and 1993 the total number of bowlers in America increased by 10%, league bowling declined by 40%.  The article outlined many of the ideas that would become Putnam’s bestselling book in 2000.  Sighting the work of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”, written in the 1830’s, Putnam argued that Americans had gone from possessing an amazing propensity to form civic organizations, to abandoning those social institutions from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, in epic numbers. After sighting precipitous declines in everything from church membership to PTA participation, to the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, the Lions Club, the Elks Club, the Jaycees, the Masons, the Shriners, he concluded, “In sum, after expanding steadily throughout most of [the 20th century], many major civic organizations have experienced a sudden, substantial and nearly simultaneous decline in membership over the last decade or two.”  Putnam concluded that as a result of this decline, the social capital of our country was eroding, threatening the health of our democracy and our society.  The institutional church is a victim of this decline.

Twenty-three years later where are we? In 2004, Facebook was born.  In 2007, the first iPhone was released.  In some ways we are more connected than we ever have been; yet amidst all this connection, we are increasingly alone.  In 2011, Dr. Sherry Turkle, an MIT Social Scientist published “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other”.    I learned about her theories through her 2012 Ted Talk. See:  http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html   One of the precepts offered in the talk was, “I share therefore I am.”   This speaks of all the ways we tell the world our “status,” through Facebook posts and instagrams and snap chats and twitter.  She goes on to say, “As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves.”  Turkle concludes that virtual intimacy degrades our experience of encounters of any kind.  Ironically, though we are more connected than ever through technology, we are more isolated that ever because of the virtual intimacy we share through those connections.

How does faith relate to this?  According to Paul, we all belong to God, and to one another.  “We are God’s field, God’s building.” (3:9) He will go on to say in tomorrow’s reading from 1 Corinthians, “all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” Faith calls us not into virtual relationship, but into true relationship.  We belong together, because we belong to Christ.  How can we seek to live into this belonging today?  How can we move from virtual connection to meaningful connection?  What could you do today to reach out to another in a way that reflects they belong to you and you belong to them, because you both belong to God?

Prayer: Open my heart this day, O God, to see that all belong to me, and I belong to them, because we belong to You.  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 February 21 2018

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Scripture: I Corinthians 2:1-13

Key verse: (2) “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

Reflection: The Corinthian church challenged Paul as he taught them what it meant to follow Jesus.  They were influenced by the culture they lived in and as a consequence his letters to them were often corrective in nature.  The opening verses of chapter two are defensive as he explains how he is trying to embody faith.  He did not rely on human wisdom but on the power of God.  Many commentators suspect that Paul did not live up to the Corinthians cultural expectations of what a great teacher looked like.  Over the centuries people have wondered if he had a speech or physical impediment.  Paul, through his choice of words, tried to demonstrate that it’s not about how strong we are, but how strong God is. However, then and now people prefer to be the strong one in relationships – even in our relationship with God.  How easy it is to forget that we have been given the Spirit of God; not the Spirit of the world.  Yet, we struggle against the spirit of the world every day.  We are profoundly influenced by the messages we hear in social media, news feeds, offices, schools and neighborhoods.  It is easy to forget what the Spirit of God has freely given us because we want to live life our way.  Paul called the church at Corinth, and he calls us, to resist the wisdom of this age and fully embrace the wisdom of God. During the season of Lent this will require both repentance and forgiveness. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to live out our faith by relying on the power of God.  This means that no matter who you are, what gifts you possess, or how much you have or don’t have, God wants to use you to proclaim the saving love, acceptance, forgiveness, and justice of Jesus in the world.

What might happen if you started living this out today?

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to love you more and stop relying exclusively on our own strength.  Transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit to do your will and work in the world.  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].

Tuesday February 20 2018

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Scripture: Mark 1:14-28

Key verses: (14-15) Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Reflection: As a pastor, I wonder how much we should proclaim good news ABOUT Jesus and how much we should proclaim the good news that Jesus himself proclaimed.  What was the good news that Jesus proclaimed?

“The time is fulfilled.” If you are waiting for God to show up, waiting for God to initiate a relationship, waiting for God to break into the world with hope and peace and justice and grace, the time has come! In Jesus Christ, our longings are fulfilled. Faith is available right now. It’s time to follow Jesus, to be a disciple, to honor Jesus as Lord of your life, right now.

“The kingdom of God has come near.” God is not distant or removed from creation. We can live as citizens of God’s kingdom now. The kingdom isn’t an abstract idea about eternal life but it’s about a changed life in the world right now. God’s kingdom, or reign, is seen in the way Jesus lived in the world and we are invited to live in the way too.

“Repent.” How can repentance be good news? Repentance isn’t just about feeling guilty for things we have done. Repentance is about conscious choices to turn things around, to change, to behave differently. If the path you are on is headed for disaster, then turn around and walk the other way.

“Believe in the good news.” You were created in the image of God. You belong to God. You are called and claimed by God. You are invited to follow Jesus and to live in his way. Believe it. It’s good news!

Prayer: O God, you bring good news in Jesus Christ. Give me a heart of courage to follow him, give me eyes of faith to see his work in the world, and give me strength of will to accept his way of life. Thank you! 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].