Thursday May 31 2018

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Scripture: Matt 13: 24-30 

Key verses: (24-30) 24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Reflection: I imagine there were some people in the early church that wanted to root out the bad seed, but Jesus’ parable challenges their weeding.  The parable makes clear that any attempt to pull out the weeds will only do more damage to the wheat.  I don’t think the church is much different today; frustrated with anyone who does not worship the “right” way, annoyed when someone doesn’t have the “right” interpretation of Scripture and even throwing shade on someone who doesn’t volunteer, serve or do mission the “right” way. . . I am not talking about sides here.  I think this speaks to our deep desire to be perfect and weed out any imperfection.  We easily pass judgement on people who make mistakes.  This does serious damage to the body of Christ. We are the church, an inseparable mixture of good and bad, wheat and weeds together.

Jesus makes clear that we simply cannot be certain who is “in” or who is “out”.  We need to stop waiting for God to come and take out all the bad things, making everything good and pure. Do we really want perfection for ourselves, the church or even the world? In the end, God will take what is pleasing. I think that is our most authentic self and an honest church seeking to be faithful in this broken world.

Prayer: Continue to transform us by your love, God. 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].

Wednesday May 30 2018

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Scripture: Proverbs 17:1-20

Key verse: (1) “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house of feasting with strife.”

Reflection: What are some of your favorite proverbs?  “A stitch in time saves nine.”  “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  These are some I remember; none of them are from the Bible.  In twenty-one years of ministry, I’ve preached two sermons from the book of Proverbs.  Put another way, out of the roughly 962 sermons preached, 2 of them have been on Proverbs.  That’s .2%! Those two were both on Proverbs 1 and 8, out of the narrative sections that describe “Lady Wisdom” and “Lady Folly.”  (Wisdom in Hebrew is a feminine word, so wisdom personified is a woman.)

Why have I avoided Proverbs?  In the first place, there is little narrative logic to Proverbs, which makes it difficult to preach.  As with today’s reading, there are collections of sayings that are not necessarily related to each other.  Take verses 6 and 7 of chapter 17: “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their parents.  Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a ruler.”  What do those two sentences have to do with each other? There is no real theme there, just unrelated sentences.  In the second place, a good proverb says it all.  It summarizes an aspect of wisdom in one well-crafted sentence.  It’s hard for a sermon to add much to a good proverb.

The entire book of Proverbs does offer themes. Dr. Alyce McKenzie, who teaches preaching at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology suggests that Proverbs poses a very practical question of its reader, “How will you spend today?”  There are two options offered in Proverbs, as a fool or as a person of wisdom.  She goes on to suggest that fools are described with six overarching Hebrew words in Proverbs:

1.       Peti—naïve, untutored

2.       Kesil—stupid/ignorant

3.       Ewil—obstinate

4.       Ba ar—crude

5.       Nabal—brutal

6.       Les—foolish/conceited

Some of these six words are included in today’s readings.  “Those who mock the poor insult their Maker,” “The crooked of mind do not prosper, and the perverse of tongue fall into calamity.”  Proverbs warns against such behavior, promoting the opposite—learning, intelligence, flexibility, reverence, kindness, and humility. My favorite from today’s reading: “A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”

How will we spend today?  Proverbs offers us guidance in this regard.  Let us pursue the path of Wisdom today, and shun the way of fools.

Prayer: Guide me through this day, O God.  Close my ears to fools.  Open my heart to hear the call of wisdom in my life, and follow wherever she leads. 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].

Tuesday May 29 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 30

Key verse: (5) “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Reflection: In a previous church I served, there was a Sunday morning communion service held each week before the regular worship services.  We used the verse above as the Call to Worship.  I would look out at the faces of people and inevitably know one or more who were struggling.  Some mornings there were a lot of weeping people in the room who hadn’t found joy.  Yet, morning was a welcome relief.  The worries and fears that wake us up at 2 a.m. fade when the sunrise lifts the darkness.  Even when we feel far away from joy, the light of day gives us hope.  Even though healing may elude us, weeping stops in the morning.

Psalm 30 is the kind of song sung after the suffering has passed.  It is a psalm of thanksgiving offered when everything turns out alright.  But, it also invites us to hold on a little longer in hope knowing that the God who offers joy is also the one who will walk with us through our deepest valleys.  Your struggles may not be going away anytime soon, but they will one day.  In the meantime, there is something about verse 5 that encourages us to remember that God is with us and that the joy we find in God’s presence will sustain us.  If you are struggling, you might not be able to see that now.  Joy might seem impossible.  Keep crying out to the LORD.  God will not abandon you despite how you feel.  Cling to hope.  Remember God’s love . . . and wait.

“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”    May your morning dawn soon.

Prayer: O LORD, in times of ease it is easy to forget how fragile we are and how much we need you.  When we think we are strong enough to weather any storm, the events of life challenge us.  In the middle of the night when we are filled with anxiety and fear, reassure us as we wait for the dawn and the hope of new life.  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].

Monday May 28 2018

Monday

Scripture: Proverbs 10:1-12

Key verses: (5-8, 12)

5 A child who gathers in summer is prudent, but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame.

6 Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.

8 The wise of heart will heed commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.

Reflection: It’s a great time for Proverbs in my household. Our son will turn 21 in a couple weeks, and just started his first real internship, with hours and a paycheck. Our daughter is in the homestretch of her senior year, applying for a summer job, prepping for college. I am wondering if we have adequately prepared them for all the changes ahead.  I’ve found myself spouting something like Proverbs at them recently: A penny saved is a penny earned; Early is on time; Find friends who’ve got your back; Whites in hot, colors in cold … I am sure they are tired of it.

The book of Proverbs pulls together instructions and wisdom about how to live rightly.  It’s chock full of great and sometimes puzzling sayings, with high expectations of ethics, of industry, of thought, word, and deed. It’s a particular kind of scriptural writing, to be taken as wise counsel and advice. I think Proverbs like these probably work better when one seeks them out for oneself. When suggested to others for their behavior, they sound like the best advice of over-anxious parents, who desperately hope something worthwhile will stick. Or perhaps like the teacher in Charlie Brown, whose lecturing tone is indecipherable. Maybe we should all find our own proverb to work on and let others do the same…

Prayer: Loving God, every day I need a new chance to get things right. Every day I need encouragement to try again to follow you. Help me know your hopes for me. Help me expect no less from myself. And help me leave others to work out their own behavior with you. Through Christ the 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].

Friday May 25 2018

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Scripture: Matt 12: 1-14

Key verses: (1-2) 1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

Reflection: This is one of six times that Jesus clashes with religious leaders over the Sabbath. In all of those encounters, Jesus does not dispute the significance of the Sabbath.  He disputes appropriate Sabbath behavior but never the importance of Sabbath in our faith journey. Jesus saw Sabbath as a day to point to the nature of God: A Merciful God, the God who heals and the God that brings redemption.

What is Sabbath? It is a weekly day of rest and worship. A day to put aside the things that occupy us during our everyday and focus on activities that nurture peace, worship, relationships, celebration and gratitude. We clear away the distractions in our lives so we can rest in God.

Jesus didn’t want us to give up the practice of Sabbath. Jesus and the disciples continue to practice Sabbath even after all of these disputes. It is a necessary part of the faith journey.  Claim Sabbath. It is so much more than doing nothing. It is a day to remember, recall and re-create. Remember God who calls you beloved and remember who you are as a child of God.

Prepare for the Sabbath this week. On whatever day works best for your life. Be intentional. Focus on activities that nourish you, your relationships and bring about a sense of profound peace and gratitude.

Prayer: Allow us to find our rest in you, God. Nourish our souls with laughter and love. In the name of Jesus 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].

Thursday May 24 2018

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Scripture: Matthew 11:25-30

Key verses: (28-30) “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  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.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Reflection: This is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus.  When I was a lay person in Franklin, TN, my pastor, Dr. Tom Walker, would recite these words as he served communion to us.  As a twenty-five-year-old banker striving to make my mark while struggling with a potential call to ministry, these words washed over me in grace.

However, reading them in their original context, I’m not sure these words were as comforting to the people who first heard them.  This is the close of a sermon to the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  He has berated them for failing to turn to the Kingdom of God in response to the miracles he has performed in their cities.  This is the only “hellfire and brimstone” sermon Jesus ever preaches to the crowds.  He tells them, “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom” than for them on the day of judgment.  That does not sound like an easy yoke or a light burden.  That sounds heavy to me.

Those harsh words come after his instructions to the twelve in Matthew 10.  In that address he warns the apostles that they will be “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” (Mt. 10:16,) and that they will be dragged before governors and kings because of him, and that they will be flogged and hated because of him. (Mt. 10:17-22)  He’s told them that he has not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword, “to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” (Mt. 10:35-35)  Not much of that sounds easy or light!  In fact, it sounds heavy to me.

What are we to make of these words?  What exactly is the rest Christ offers us?  Tom Long’s commentary on Matthew offers a helpful word.  He writes, “What Jesus offers is not a hammock, but a yoke.  In Judaism, the yoke was a symbol of obedience to the law and wisdom of God.  Likewise, Jesus’ yoke is obedience to the commandments of the kingdom of heaven, a willingness to serve others in humility and mercy.  Jesus’ yoke is ‘easy,’ and his burden is ‘light,’ not because there is little to do or the way is safely paved.  To the contrary, there is a cross to be carried…The yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light because it is the way of God, and it is profoundly satisfying to the human soul.” (Tom Long, Matthew, in the Westminster Bible Companion Series, p. 132.)

Looking back on hearing Tom Walker recite these words, I realize what was really happening for me was a call to ministry.  While this call has not been easy or light, it is indeed profoundly satisfying.  In answering this call, my soul has indeed found rest.  What is Christ calling you to do today?  It might not be easy or light as the world might view it, but in answering that call you will surely find deep satisfaction and rest for your soul.

Prayer: Open our ears to hear, our minds to see, and our hearts to receive your call to us this day, O Lord.  Give us courage to respond that we might find our soul’s promised rest in 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 May 23 2018

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Scripture: Psalm 1

Key verses: (1-3) “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, . . .They are like trees planted by streams of water, . . .”

Reflection: This psalm describes two ways of life that we are free to choose – the way of the wicked or the way of the righteous.  This old-fashioned kind of language may sound odd but it fit the original audience.  We don’t use words like “wicked” or even “righteous” in our common language because these two words are most often associated with judgmental, unloving people who condemn others.  But, we do know the difference between following a path of destruction or a path to wholeness.   A better way to capture the Psalmists meaning might be to say it this way:  if you take the advice of rude, arrogant and disrespectful people your life will eventually come to nothing, but if you take the advice of the law – aka the Torah – you will discover what it means to be loved by God and how to share that love with others.  The metaphor of the tree with deep roots by streams of water is a beautiful description of a life transformed by God’s love.  It is an invitation to enter the inner world of contentment and happiness – a place where our faith will deepen and we can quit chasing after things that won’t satisfy us.  Without a firm foundation, our lives, like chaff, will be carried away by the wind.  So, we are invited to reject the desires that lead to destruction and search for someone and something greater than ourselves.   When we do, we will prosper – not in the way the world sees prosperity, but inwardly.  Our inner lives will become richer and our unity with God stronger. We will become useful to others in ways we might not be able to imagine.

We live in a world where we often see the wicked prosper and the righteous perish, so it may seem foolish to believe that delighting in God’s will gets us anywhere. But this is the invitation.

As you read the psalm today, ask yourself: “What choice have I made?”

Prayer: Gracious God, help us follow in the way of your wisdom so that we might have rich and full lives as we serve others.  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].