Monday April 30 2018

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Scripture: John 7:37-52

Key verses: (37-44) 37On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

40When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” 41Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? 42Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 43So there was a division in the crowd because of him.

Reflection: Jesus has always been at the center of controversies and trouble. From the time of his birth, people have been arguing about who he really is, and what his life signifies. King Herod sent his advisors searching through prophecies, and his soldiers on a deadly hunt because of baby Jesus.  Pharisees and scribes had a fit while Jesus was teaching and healing in Galilee. His disciples and early followers argued from the earliest days after his resurrection about where and how to share the gospel message with others. Churches have split and wars have been fought over what to believe and how to worship him.

It’s almost as if we’d rather argue about him than listen to him.

In this chapter of John’s gospel, everyone is complaining about him. His disciples pressure him to go to Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths and get his message out publicly. Jesus says his time has not yet come, and doesn’t go, then later attends secretly. The Jews there complain that he is not in attendance. Then Jesus stands up and speaks a word, and instead of listening to him, everyone argues over where he learned to speak so well, and who gave him the authority. He is the calm at the center of a swirl, and his words are a few verses in the middle of a long narrative about what everyone else is saying and doing.

Today, pause from whatever is swirling around you, and meditate on these words of Jesus: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”  Just those words. Not who might believe them and who might not. Not who you wish believed them more like you. Not everything else you have to do that is more pressing than living water. Just what Jesus is saying to you.

Prayer: Lord, I am thirsty. I need your living water. Thank you. 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 April 27 2018

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Scripture: Matt 5: 27-37

Key verse: (37) Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Reflection: Jesus is talking about the truth. Nothing but the truth, so help me God. But why is a simple yes or no enough?  We have all manipulated the truth at some point. Maybe we have told only enough of the story so that it would be truth when actually if you heard the whole story, what we implied would have not been true. We don’t trust ourselves and we don’t trust others, so we need an oath. A substitute for honesty.

It is easier to live by lists of rules and laws than it is to live in authentic, dynamic, and redemptive relationship to people. Jesus is raising the bar and challenging the system. Just tell the truth!

Did you just say Jack Nicholson’s famous line from A Few Good Men? In the 1992 movie about a murder cover-up at Guantanamo Bay, Col. Nathan Jessup is pushed to tell the truth but responds in red-faced anger, “You can’t handle the truth.” I think he could not handle the truth that he played a role in so much injustice.

We have to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with others. Jesus is calling for a deeper truth and deeper discipleship. His invitation is to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth; without the “so help me God”. Let your yes be yes and your no be no, without using God’s name to prove your commitment.

Prayer: Beloved God, we are nothing except loved by you. Be present with us today. Give us courage to stand firm for justice and to speak out in 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 April 26 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26

Key verse: (21) ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…But I say to you…”

Reflection: I’ve always loved music — all kinds of music.  From the Rolling Stones to Robert Earle Keen; from Bach to Bono and U2.  As a kid, I was drawn to the energy and the passion and the beauty of music, not necessarily the lyrics.  I would sing along with the songs, but I wouldn’t really listen to the lyrics.

In college, one of the edgiest groups I loved were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who describe themselves as, “an American funk band.”  Jumping in a mosh pit with friends to their pulsing rhythms with “Flea,” the bass player, flinging his head back and forth and lead singer Anthony Kiedis roaring out the lyrics — it was the best.  I really never listened to the lyrics carefully, because the music was so compelling to my 19-year-old self.

As I began thinking about seminary, I found I started listening more carefully to lyrics.  I used songs to help young people study the Bible.  I would ask them about their favorite songs and they would tell me about the artists who wrote them, about the circumstances that led to the songs and that would open up the meaning of the songs in powerful ways.  Then I would do the same thing with Bible passages for them.

One day one of the youth brought his favorite song for us to discuss.  It was by the Red Hot Chili Peppers — imagine my surprise.  “I love the Chili Peppers,” I said, “what song did you bring?”  “Higher Ground,” he said. “I love that song!” I said.  He explained it was a cover of the original by Stevie Wonder, in 1974.  Then he shared the lyrics and I realized I have never really heard them.  Here’s a verse with the chorus:

Teachers keep on teachin’

Preachers keep on preachin’

World keep on turnin’

‘Cause it won’t be too long, oh no

 

I’m so glad he let me try it again

‘Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin

I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then

Gonna keep on tryin’

Till I reach the higher ground!

Wow!  I heard the gospel in that song.  I heard the coming kingdom of God.  I heard call and purpose and redemption and hope — in the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS!  I had never really heard that song.

“You have heard it said…” Jesus said to his disciples.  Then he began listing some of the commandments.  Indeed, they had heard these commandments their whole lives.  But had they ever really heard them?  “But I say to you…”  Jesus called them to really hear the words; not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, the truth of the law, to really hear what God was saying to us.  He was taking them deeper in order to call them higher.  They just had to listen; really listen.

Prayer: Open our ears to hear, our minds to see, and our hearts to receive the depth of your word to us this day, O God, that we might reach the higher ground.  Amen.

If you want to hear the song, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdOLFtk9joI

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 April 25 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 99

Key verses: (9) “Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.”

Reflection: I have praised God for many things during my life, but I can’t remember ever praising God for God’s holiness – at least not directly. The definition of holy is: specially recognized or declared sacred, having a spiritually pure quality; or entitled to worship or veneration.  The word is most often used as an adjective, but it also can be used as a noun to name a place of worship or sacred place.  (The Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem comes to mind).

Scripture affirms that God is wholly “other” – different from us and beyond our comprehension.  Yet, we have a deep need to try to explain who God is and what God means to us.  Today’s psalm reminds us that  . . .

The LORD is King

The LORD is great and exalted

The LORD is a lover of justice

The LORD is forgiving

The LORD is our God

The LORD is holy.  This holiness is powerful.  It reminds us of who we are and who we are not.  It reminds us that God acts in the world and in our individual lives.  God hears us, advocates for us, answers us, forgives us and defends us.  Great men and women throughout history and in the Biblical record have been led by this holy LORD – the same God who leads us.  I know that I am very thankful that God is greater than I am.  This leads me to give thanks and to praise the One who cherishes and sustains me.

So, as I read today’s psalm I am reminded of the blessings God’s holiness brings.  Praise the LORD!

Prayer:  Holy God, we give thanks that you are great and powerful!  May the mention of your name strike awe in our hearts, as we reflect on your strength and tenderness.  Help us to give praise to you today and every day.  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].

Tuesday April 24 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 98

Key verses: (1a, 4)

1   O sing to the LORD a new song….

4   Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

Reflection: My daughter’s high school choir just got back from a trip to New York City. After an overnight bus ride on the way up, they saw a Broadway musical, toured the 9/11 museum, and sang at St. Peter’s, Lincoln Center, and St. John the Divine. God bless their chaperones. I’ve loved hearing the choir perform over her high school years. They have sung some beautiful pieces, from all over the world. They even sang at MPPC earlier this year. The director asked me to help him set it up because he loves the acoustics in our sanctuary. It was an evening concert, all a capella (without accompaniment) and they sounded amazing. I have secretly loved that they sing so many sacred pieces. My prayer is that the words, and the glorious music, sink deep into my daughter’s soul (and her classmates) and stay there.

I sang in a high school choir. There were some songs we sang every year, and those pieces of music have stayed with me, though decades have passed. I read the psalm for today, about singing a new song to the Lord, and somehow thought again about one of those pieces we sang over thirty years ago. Cantate Domino, by Giuseppe Pitoni. The text comes from Psalm 149, and we sang it in Latin, but the words begin like this Psalm does, “sing to the Lord, sing a new song.” When we sing in the sanctuary and in Celebrate, or anywhere else in worship, we lift our voices in praise to God. Music can be a prayer. I told my daughter that listening to her choir sing is sometimes like worship to me. May the songs we sing and pray bring praise to God. And may they stay with us, deep in our souls, as a gift from God.

Enjoy this rendition of the song I remember singing, by the Christopher Wren Singers of the College of William & Mary. May it be our prayer today. Here are the English verses from which it comes:

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

Prayer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF_rxVoZoqM

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 April 23 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 5:1-10

Key verses: (5-10) 5 When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection: This is one of the most talked about sermons of Jesus. I wonder if Jesus saw these people who others didn’t know what to do with and saw their blessedness.  Jesus said there’s a blessedness in you even when you’re mourning or when you’re grieving. Even when it feels like the grief is the whole of who we are, Jesus saw people with a deeper blessedness that they could tap into, and from that deeper blessedness they could find a space where comfort would come. Through the eyes of Jesus, we can begin to see beyond whatever we think is broken or weak.  Christ-like vision can move things in us that we miss in ourselves.

Is this a blessing upon those that don’t seem to fit into regular society? It sounds like something Jesus would do.  Nadia Bolz Webber says that maybe Jesus is actually just blessing people, especially the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise. She offers us a modern-day list of extravagant blessings that Jesus might offer today.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working. Blessed are the pre-schoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet” Blessed are they who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. Blessed are Bo’s wife and kids and Billy’s mom and Amy Mac’s friends. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers and the night shift street sweepers. Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small. The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard – for they are those with whom Jesus chose to surround himself. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved and never does. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

I don’t know if that was Jesus’ intention of the Beatitudes. What I do know is that he offered and offers blessings of love, hope and peace to the least and the lost. Thanks be to God for his son who is our hope and ultimate blessing.

Prayer: May we be humble enough to know that we don’t always have to be the one to receive a blessing, God. May we be wise enough to know that we receive it anyway. 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 April 20 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 4:12-17

Key verse: (16) “…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.”

Reflection: A few years ago I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We spent our first week in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, not far the ruins of what was once Capernaum.  I never realized how much of the gospel took place in this rural area until we spent extended time there, reading the gospel stories in the places where they unfolded.  It was a delightful week in a serene and calm setting—much different than the second week in the craziness of Jerusalem.  We could understand how hard it must have been for Jesus to leave the serene country side and head to the big city.

Yet Capernaum was apparently not that beautiful, serene place in the first century.  In fact, Matthew invokes Isaiah’s words to describe it as “a place of darkness,” “the region of shadow and death.”  Why?  Because life was incredibly hard in that time and in that place.  They lived under the harsh rule of Rome.  Nothing was their own.  It is from this place of darkness that the light of God in Christ comes forth.

Perhaps it takes darkness for us to see light.  Perhaps we can only welcome light when we sit in darkness and the shadow of death.  Light certainly comes as good news when you find yourself in the dark.  Thanks be to God for light that shines when the darkness defines too much of our lives.

Prayer: Let your light shine this day in the dark places of our world this day, be they in our world, in our communities, or within the shadows of our hearts.  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 April 19 2018

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Scripture: Exodus 20:1-21

Key verse: (2) “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; . . .”

Reflection: When I was growing up, my parents would say to me “don’t forget who you are”.  This was their way of reminding me that I was the daughter of an Air Force officer, a daughter who was loved, and a daughter who belonged to God and the church community.  As I recall, they said this a lot to me when I went to high school and later to college!  I have never forgotten it.  At the beginning of today’s scripture passage, God reminds the people who they are – people who have been set free from slavery by a God who loves them. This reminder is the preface to what we know as the Ten Commandments.  These laws were meant to build community and foster trust.  Many of our modern-day laws were originally based on these ten commands.  For people to get along, laws are necessary.

The large group of people who fled from slavery in Egypt needed a structure for their life together. They had never been free to make their own choices before. How can you trust your neighbor if you are worried that they might steal from you, take your spouse, kill a family member or conspire to take all of your belongings?  You can’t build community if people are suspicious of one another.  These commandments were meant to provide a framework for building a good life and a strong community.   A pattern for life built around the love of God and the love of neighbor was established.  Sometimes when we think about the Ten Commandments we think about the way they have been used politically.  Fights over if or where they should be posted flare up every few years and are broadcast in the news or social media.  This typically starts a discussion about the separation of church and state and the actual content of the commands is largely ignored.  For people of faith, they are a reminder of who we are and who we belong to.  Like all commands or “rules” they address issues that have already come up or potential issues that might arise.  Since we are prone to idolatry – God reminds us not to make idols to worship.  Since we are tempted to not have reverence for the living God, we are reminded to pay attention to how we use the LORD’s name.  This doesn’t just apply to cursing.  A greater issue might be the casual way we might overuse the name of God in everyday speech or prayer.  Since we are tempted to overwork, we are reminded to set aside a day of rest because God rested after the work of creation. The last six commands have to do with our relationships with one another.  We are called to honor our mothers and fathers (even the ones who are a challenge), never murder, never commit adultery, never steal, never testify falsely, never covet anything belonging to someone else.

Of course, I don’t know anyone who has ever been able to keep all of the commandments, except Jesus. Given our human frailty we will fail.  Thank goodness for God’s grace!  In times of temptation, we can stop and remember who we are and who we belong to.  And when we fail, it is a comfort to know that we can be forgiven and restored. Sometimes this means we will have a legal penalty to pay when we break the law (fines, jail, loss of privileges) or a personal consequence when we have broken trust with another person.  We always suffer the consequences of our choices.  But, the LORD who brought the people out of the house of bondage can deliver us from our missteps and mistakes.  We were given these laws for protection.  They set us free to live.   Today and every day “don’t forget who you are” – a precious child of God.

Prayer: O LORD, our God, we are grateful for your love and the reminder that we belong to you.  Help us to live as your people – showing forth your love, working for justice and living lives that honor you.  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].

Wednesday April 18 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17

Key verses: (16-17) 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Reflection: I love baptizing babies. There is something holy about splashing water on the fuzzy head of a child of God, proclaiming that they belong to God forever. Baptism brings together parents promising to raise their child to know and love God, a faith community promising to partner with them as they do, and the grace of God poured out on us all.

This past Sunday I baptized a number of little ones who were active and very vocal about the process. I had met with families beforehand to assure them that whatever happened would be perfectly fine. And it was, as it always is. Older siblings, about whom parents had worried, watched wide-eyed. One almost-toddler pushed my hand away after I baptized her (who can blame her—it’s not like we asked permission), but she stayed happy. One sweet boy cried through the prayer, then somehow stopped crying just after the water was placed on his head. During the early service I asked people to stand as they sang Jesus Loves Me by mistake, and it all still worked out just fine. It always does. That’s the grace of God that comes to us in baptism. We don’t have to be perfect angels to receive it. We don’t have to behave just right, say our lines just right, or know all the words to the Apostle’s Creed by heart. God reaches out to us, and says, “You are mine and I love you.”

Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for loving me and calling me your child. Thank you for all those in our church raising children to know and follow you. Help me partner with them to be your beloved community, bound together by your grace. 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 April 17 2018

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Scripture: Matt 3: 7-12

Key verses: (7-12) But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with[a] water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Reflection: I have always wondered if John the Baptist was disappointed in Jesus. Did he want a revolution? John knew he was paving the way for his cousin who would baptize with the holy spirit and fire.  Sounds like he was hoping Jesus would turn the world upside down.  “The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” sounds like fighting words.  I love this speech from John but the phrase that stands out to me is verse 9, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Complete faith not in this revolution but in the God of this revolution.

John doesn’t mess around because he is in the wilderness. This is a cry for change.  John speaks from the place of urgency. John is bold in his call for things to be different.  We need the voice of John the Baptist today to speak to our apathy for the kingdom of God.  We need John to call us to “Return to what God asks of you for the reign of God is nearer than you think.” The way of Jesus may not have been the revolution that John dreamed but the love of Christ transforms hearts, minds, systems and societies.  Let us continue our Kingdom work of justice, love and maybe a touch of revolution.

Prayer: God, stir in our hearts a desire for peace on earth and love for all. In the name of your son, we pray. 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].