Friday March 30 2018

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Scripture: John 19:38-42

Key verses: (38-42) 38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Reflection: No matter where I am, I like to be reflective from noon until 3 p.m. on Good Friday. Letting the story of Good Friday surround me and imagine what Jesus’ followers must have felt that first Friday.  Was there an emptiness deep inside? Did it feel like the end of a revolution? Did it feel like the end of HOPE?

I don’t want to leave that story too quickly but our scripture re-introduces us to Nicodemus. He was the one who met Jesus at night and had a lot of questions. The Judaism that Jesus and Nicodemus knew had a good deal to do with being born to the right family. Following Jesus was a little bit too far off the grid for Nicodemus but he was drawn to him. Meeting him at night meant he could keep everything in his life neat and tidy.  He pretty much disappears until this verse from John 19 when he joins Joseph of Arimathea.  He comes right out into the open in an intimate gesture of faith. Nicodemus prepares the body for burial.

The bold act of faith reminds us that faith is not dead on this day. It invites us to be bold and embrace Jesus and wherever this journey of faith might take us.

Prayer: God of the Cross, do not abandon us in our darkness but do not move us so quickly to Easter. Stay with us here as we sit with the Jesus of the tomb. Holding on to the Hope that Sunday is coming. 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 March 29 2018

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Scripture: Mark 14:12-25

Key verses: (22-24)“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.  He said to them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Reflection: As we continue our journey through Holy Week, we come today to “Maundy Thursday.”  “Maundy” is derived through the Old French, mande’, from the Latin mandatum, meaning, “commandment.” This references John 13:34, “a new commandment I give you, that you love one another.”  This was the conclusion of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, and commanding them to do the same. Today many churches have foot washing services to fulfill this mandate, though this has not been a wide-spread practice among Presbyterians.

Communion has become the centerpiece in many Maundy Thursday services.  So it will be with us tonight.  We will celebrate Maundy Thursday beginning at 7:00 p.m. around tables in Oxford Hall.  Our worship will focus on Jesus’ farewell discourse found in John 13-17.  We will take time to consider the special tables we have gathered around in our lives and what made them special.  We will share something of our own stories with one another, with Jesus’ words guiding us through those reflections.  And then we will share Communion around our tables.

There is something profoundly intimate about table fellowship.  That night at the Last Supper, Jesus took that intimacy to an even deeper level.  Using bread and wine to represent himself.  “Take, this is my body…This is my blood.”  Together, they partook.  Can you imagine that scene?  Could they imagine that for the next 2,000 years, Christians would repeat this night, seeking deeper communion with Christ and with one another in the same manner, sharing bread and the fruit of the vine?  Can we fathom what it means for Christ to dwell within us, among us, and through us in such a way?

The prayer we often use after communion is inspired by one from the Iona Community in Scotland.  Within the prayer we say, “As by the miracle of creation this bread and wine are changed into us, so by the power of your Holy Spirit may we be changed into You; to be the body of Christ in and for this world.”  This is what we believe happens in communion.  It all began when Jesus first said, “Take, this is my body…this is my blood.”

Prayer: Thank you for your many gifts to us, Gracious God.  This day we are especially thankful for the gift you give us in Christ, his body given, his lifeblood poured out.  Tonight as we celebrate the sacrament, may we come into deeper communion with one another and with you, through Christ our Lord 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].

Wednesday March 28 2018

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Scripture: Mark 12:1-11

Key verse: (7) “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”

Reflection: When one reads the accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life, it seems clear that he believed he had nothing to lose.  He didn’t hold back in his indictment of the religious leaders and this parable is a good example.  The history in this parable isn’t immediately evident to a casual hearer or reader, but it recounts the history of Israel over the centuries. The nation of Israel is compared to a vineyard that belongs to God.  The tenants are the people of Israel who turned away from God even though God had shown them so much steadfast love and care. The slaves, who were sent to collect the rent, were the many prophets who called the people to return to a loving God.  The beloved son was Jesus who has been sent to the people inviting them to turn toward God.  However, then and now, people resisted.

What is it in us that is so prideful and self-centered that we can’t accept God’s love and follow in God’s ways?  Is it the desire to be in control – the need to be in charge? What drives us to go our own way, often at the expense of others?

For me this parable invites surrender. Surrender is not giving up, but giving in to.  The tenants in the story do not want to submit to the landlord.  They want to go their own way even though the landlord has been generous with them – providing for all of their needs.  How often do we resist submitting to God?  I’m not talking about being abused against your will or becoming a doormat for someone else to take advantage of you, but rather the stubborn refusal to give your life to God and submit to the love, acceptance, and forgiveness of Jesus. The theologian Jean-Pierre de Caussade once wrote: “Surrender of the heart to God includes every possible way of obedience to God, because it means giving up one’s very being to God’s good pleasure.” (1) Jesus criticized the religious leaders because they refused to see their own disobedience. However, they did see and understand that Jesus was criticizing them and this made them angry.  By the end of the week they found a way to arrest him and have him killed – not unlike the tenants in today’s parable.

As we travel through Holy Week, reflect on how you might draw closer to Jesus. What kind of tenant have you been with the life God has given you?  How have you abused and rejected God’s love? What kind of follower of Jesus do you want to be?

Prayer: Gracious God, giver of all good gifts, forgive us for going our own way and rejecting you.  Help us to place you as a cornerstone in our lives that we might look upon your love with amazement.  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].

(1)“Surrender is Everything” from The Joy of Full Surrender, The Community of Jesus, 1997.

Tuesday March 27 2018

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Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:8-22

Key verse: (20) For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God.

Reflection: God says “yes” and we say “hmm?” God says “yes” and we say “quit hassling me.” God says “yes” and we pout and sulk, we moan and whine. God says “yes” and we say “perhaps.”  God says “yes” and we say “maybe some other time.” God says “yes” and we say “really? Me?” God says “yes” and we say “not sure I trust that to be true.”

This is Holy Week.  As we journey with Christ to the table of the last supper, to the cross, and to the burial tomb, we see God’s resounding YES to us.  In Jesus Christ, God loves us always. In Jesus Christ, God won’t stop loving us no matter what we do – betray him, deny him, abandon him, even crucify him. We see God’s glory this week embodied in Jesus Christ. He shines with the power of God even when he chooses vulnerability. He radiates love even when he is suffering. He offers words of forgiveness even from the cross.

God is steadfast and faithful in loving us. God looks at each of us, created in the image of God, and God says “yes” to our value. God claims us as children of God. God promises to work redemption and transformation in our lives and in all of creation. No matter our response, God’s “yes” remains. We say “Amen and amen and amen.”

Prayer: I long to say “yes” to you O Lord. Shape my life to be a living YES to your loving yes for 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].

Monday March 26 2018

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Scripture: Mark 11:12-25

Key verses: (15-18, 25) 15Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.

25″Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

Reflection: I’ve never known quite what to do with the story of Jesus getting so angry in the temple that he turns over the tables of the money changers. An angry Jesus, even in righteous anger, is not my usual way of imagining him. The knowledge that he got angry, as I do, helps me understand his humanity better. I am struck that this story is in the middle of a story about him cursing a fig tree because figs are out of season. It is apparently a really bad day for Jesus. And his week is only going to get harder.

Jesus may have had some important powerful lesson in mind with both acts of anger that I can’t glean right now. What I am focused on is what he says at the end of both stories: 25″Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” According to Jesus, even bad days can be redeemed with the power of grace and forgiveness.

Maybe you need to offer some grace and forgiveness to those with whom you are angry. Maybe they need to do so for you because you lashed out in anger, even if it was a little bit righteous. Maybe you need to forgive yourself. Maybe you need to file this story away and pull it out tomorrow, next week, or next year so you can remind yourself over and over again that there is forgiveness when anger gets the best of us. That is good news to hear in a hard week.

Prayer: Lord, forgive me when my anger overwhelms me. Help me sort out what is righteous and justified, and how to act on it in ways that bring your kingdom closer. Help me forgive others who might just be having a really bad day. Keep me focused on you during this holy week. 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].

Friday March 23 2018

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Scripture: Mark 10: 32-45

Key verses: (43-45) 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Reflection: Jesus points out that there is no escaping service. You will either willingly serve others, or you will become a slave to your illusions that you can serve no one. We live with that illusion of independence and then we serve power, consumption, status or even just stuff.

Who will you serve?

Jesus calls us to find freedom through service to neighbor. He challenges everything we know with the life-giving revelation that as we lose ourselves in service we find ourselves living more fully. As we follow Christ, we give ourselves away in service and love only. We have been on this journey of commitment during lent, giving up our additions and striving to be faithful to one God. This spiritual practice helps us to discover a depth and quality of life we’d never experienced before.  Jesus helps us to discover a depth and a quality of life like we have never experienced.

Listen again to the question Jesus was asking the disciples and each of us. Who will you serve?

Prayer: God, help me to acknowledge the ways this world has a hold on me. Guide me as I seek to follow your son and serve only you. 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 March 22 2018

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Scripture: Mark 10:17-31

Key verse: (21) “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”

Reflection: What are the questions of your life?  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  That’s the question posed to Jesus.   A Christian response might be, “Confess your sin, accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and you will be saved.”  The problem with this traditional Christian response is it’s not what Jesus says.  Rather, Jesus cites the commandments — sort of.  He only quotes the commands related to loving neighbors.  The man responds, “Lived them my whole life.”  Jesus loves him for this. Some suggest Jesus is saying, “Bless your heart,” in all its Southern complexity.  Perhaps.  I’d like to believe Jesus simply loved him for trying to do the right thing.  Then we encounter the real problem, what Jesus did say: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”   What are we to do with this?  We can ignore the answer.  Many Christians through the ages have done just that. But if we do, we will surely miss out on the life Christ calls us to live. Jesus’ answer echoes what he said at the end of chapter 8 — If you want to save your life, lose it.  Give it away.

In his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Franciscan Monk Richard Rohr, writes, “Unless and until you give your life away to others, you do not seem to have it yourself and any deep level.”   It’s the irony of emptying yourself to really find yourself. Perhaps that’s what Jesus was saying to the man who asked him what he had to do to inherit life.  Let it go.  Perhaps he needed to let that question go.  How he gets eternal life is just not that important, because ultimately life really isn’t about him.  As long as that’s his question, he will never get beyond himself.  To find life, he must let that self-interest go.

Letting go is only half of the call. Jesus also calls the man to follow him.   Jesus says, “Give away what has defined your life and you will find what life is really all about.  Give it away and discover the treasure of heaven.  Give it away and come and follow me.” Following Jesus is not about self-interest.  It’s about loving God with all we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  That all begins when we begin to give our lives to others.

How did the man respond?  Mark tells us he went away sad, for he had great possessions.  Most conclude he didn’t take Jesus up on the offer.  Perhaps he might have been sad because he had some really cool stuff he was really going to miss.  Maybe he went to take inventory.  How do we respond?  May we at least set out to take inventory.

Prayer: “The Prayer of Francis”

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  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 March 21 2018

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Scripture: II Corinthians 2:14-3:6

Key verses: (14-16) “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

Reflection: Paul’s letters to the Corinthians contain some of my favorite bible passages.  II Corinthians outlines the highlights of the Christian faith in the first few chapters of the letter. It is a powerful reminder of who we are as the community of faith and how we are to be in the world.  The Apostle Paul was challenged by the Corinthians church because he didn’t have the kind of credentials that secular teachers of prominence had at that time.  Paul didn’t let that stop him.  Using metaphorical language, he described followers of Jesus Christ as aromas and letters.  Being described as an aroma sounds strange, but to Paul’s congregation, it made sense.  On the main road in Corinth it wouldn’t have been unusual to see a Roman victory parade.  And parades in the ancient world had aromas.  We have lost touch with many of the smells in our modern world because we are a deodorized culture.  We spend more time getting rid of smells than smelling them.  In recent years, there has been an interest in aroma therapy to help people relax, energize, and sleep, but mainly we use Febreze and other products to neutralize smell.  In Paul’s world, Roman victory parades were full of aromas – many of them pleasant and many repugnant.  In preparation for a parade, there would have been the aroma of food cooking, bread baking, flowers being cut and arranged. Depending on the victory, these parades could be dramatic spectacles. When the army arrived, there would be the smell of the crowd (no deodorant), horses, leather, and soldiers, followed by dead bodies that were often dragged at the end of the parade – a grim warning of what would happen if you turned against Rome.  That’s a lot of smells!  So, when Paul encouraged them to be a triumphal parade spreading the fragrance of Christ in the world, the Corinthian church would have understood what he meant – at least about the parade.

Even though these parades sound foreign to us, I think we do understand what it means to be a “fragrance”.  Have you ever heard someone referred to as a “stinker”?  Or perhaps, a situation that “stinks”.  We still use “smell” language to describe a person or a situation.  Today’s passage invites us to think of ourselves as the fragrance of Christ.  What is this fragrance?  It could be something as simple as kindness or as challenging as forgiveness.  It is the way we conduct ourselves in the world knowing that we are beloved by God and called to serve others.  We can be the sweet smell of love, acceptance, patience, justice and devotion in someone else’s life.  As a community, we can continue to be a sanctuary to all those who are hurt or suffering.  We can be the sweet smell of salvation from all that seeks to destroy our world as we follow Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, lead us in a fragrant, triumphal procession as we follow Christ.  It is 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].

Tuesday March 20 2018

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Scripture: Exodus 5:1 – 6:1

Key verse: (18) Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.

Reflection: When the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, God heard their cry and called Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the people out of Egypt. Moses first asked Pharaoh to let the Hebrews journey into the wilderness to celebrate a worship festival. Pharaoh responded harshly. He didn’t let the slaves leave their work for worship and he punished them by telling the taskmasters to stop providing straw for their brick-making. Straw helped the dirt to hold its shape and it loosened the clay so that it dried more quickly and evenly. Clay without straw would take longer to dry and harden. Those bricks would be more likely to crumble and break apart.

Bricks without straw.  When I traveled to Israel many years ago, I visited a biblical park. The park had animals and plants of the Bible, as well as opportunities for hands-on activities. One activity was brick-making; park visitors could try making bricks with mud and no straw to see how hard the slaves worked in Egypt.

Some days feel like “bricks without straw” days. Those are the days when I don’t have what it takes to keep up. The days when my taskmaster (usually the voice inside my own head) is demanding and harsh. The days when things crumble and fall apart. Do you have “bricks without straw” days?

It is good news that our God is not Pharaoh.  Our God is not a harsh taskmaster. I believe God will give us what we need in order for us to be faithful. God hears our crying hearts when we have “bricks without straw” days and God cares. God calls us to worship, to step away from work in order to rest and celebrate. Our God offers us an endless supply of straw in the gracious presence of Jesus Christ. We will have bad days, but God is faithful to remain with us no matter what.

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Prayer: Some days are hard days, dear Lord. Thank you for loving me on the hard, falling apart, can’t-keep-it-together days. Thank you for offering me freedom. Teach me to trust in you every day. 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 March 19 2018

Monday

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:1-19

Key verses: 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. 15What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.

Reflection: In this passage the apostle Paul is instructing believers in Corinth about speaking in tongues. He lifts up the ability to prophesy in order to build up and encourage the community of faith. Speaking in tongues on its own, he says, just benefits the one who speaks. But prophesying with interpretation or teaching others benefits the whole church. Paul holds up the necessity of engaging both the spirit and the mind in prayer and praise.

We are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. Our Presbyterian reformed heritage has always held up the importance of the life of the mind, in our faith. For that reason, we have always believed in the importance of an educated clergy, of the development and support for educational institutions, and of the education of Christians through the study of scripture and theology. These values are no less true today than they have been in the past. Now that we can carry the Bible around in our back pockets and purses on our phones, we have more access to scripture than ever before. Certainly much more than the new believers in Corinth did. But Paul’s instruction to the early believers is still relevant today.

What are you doing to seek to grow in your faith through both your spirit and your mind? Where are you gathering with others to learn together, and to learn from scholars and teachers? And how is your growth in faith benefiting the community of faith, and not just yourself?

Prayer: Lord, you have given me the gift of a spirit and a mind. Help me use both in prayer and in praise to you. Show me how to use my mind to benefit the community of faith. In the name of Christ the teacher and Lord, 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].